Conference Realignment Talk Triggers Possibilities

Just as DU engineered a master stroke in moving women’s lacrosse to the Big East, Big 12 expansion talks are heating up again. According to an SB Nation article yesterday, the Big 12 is getting close to adding two more teams. The league commissioned a study to run models on the net impact of expanding back to a 12-team member conference with eight regular season conference games and a title game. This format would provide the Big 12 the best chance to make the College Football Playoff. The odds, when calculated by a consulting firm, predicted a 4-5% greater chance to compete for the national championship annually with 12 members instead of 10. 

Of course there are complications. Texas has the Longhorn network  which limits the creation of a Big 12 network to compete with the remaining super-conferences. The Texas teams don’t want to add Houston because that would split the ‘Texas pie.’ Cincinnati has been on bended knee begging to join while BYU is the consensus pick to make the cut if the conference were to expand. Other dark horses who have expressed an interest include Memphis, UCF, USF, and UConn. To approve expansion, league members need an affirmative super majority vote of 75% or 8 of 10 current members to allow entry.

It all boils down to money. In exchange for adding two members and sharing league revenues, the league gets additional exposure, entry fees, and a chance to share the pot when they advance into the College Football Playoff. Any other considerations are secondary in the high flying, big money, football revenue driven Power 5 conferences.

If that occurs, a slot will likely open in the West Coast Conference (WCC) – a league membership which is much more aligned with DU than the Summit League. With the potential departure of BYU, an already poor fit for the WCC, Denver would be an ideal replacement candidate. Denver has established relationships with the WCC through previous efforts at joining the conference. Now, DU is sitting squarely on another probable Directors Cup win this year and a boat load of NCAA appearances. DU, with the exception of basketball, is a hot commodity and is being noticed nationally. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that may not surface again – so DU needs to act.

The new ‘wild card’ is the emergence of the Big East Conference as an athletic partner. Is there a possibility that there is a fit there for DU, especially in basketball, soccer, and volleyball? That would leave DU golf, tennis and swimming and diving without a home. All DU’s other sports have secure conference affiliations. Could DU forge affiliate relationships for these other sports to join strong regional conferences such as DU gymnastics has done with the Big 12? This would place Denver’s conference affiliation in a stable position for the long haul – if there is such a thing in Division I athletics.

Finally, could DU actually leverage the WCC against the Big East to forge the best possible deal? If they get an offer from just one of the two, they can go back to the other one to test their interest as well. It just might work in DU’s favor where the university can negotiate from a position of strength.

The decision on Big 12 expansion is 4-5 weeks away when the conference president’s meet again. If BYU is selected, we may be facing another league change, this time for the better.

Time for a full-court press.