Bob Bowlsby sat on the podium at midfield of the massive NFL stadium in Arlington, Texas where the Big 12 plays its championship game, talking about the successes of the smallest Power Five conference before getting a familiar question about the possibility of expansion.
The commissioner said there is no talk about adding to the league’s current 10 schools.
“We have had no expansion discussion at any level. We like the 10 we have,” Bowlsby said Monday at the start of the conference’s football media days. “I don’t expect that to be an active topic on anybody’s agenda within the conference anytime in the foreseeable future.”
Bowlsby talked about the round-robin schedule that sets up a title game rematch of the league’s top two teams, and a full round-robin schedule in basketball that allows for home-and-away games each season. He said there are record revenues and new opportunities in a changing media market, such as the new Big 12 Now digital network on ESPN+.
“We have had a tremendous year competitively. We have had a very good year financially,” Bowlsby said. “I think our ADs and our board (of directors) are the most aligned that they have been in the seven years that I’ve been with the conference.”
The Big 12 split $388 million in revenue for the last academic year, a 6 percent increase and an average of $38.8 million per school. Those numbers don’t include third-tier media rights and participation subsidies.
Other Big 12 topics
Bowlsby said the number of transfers is about the same on a school-by-school basis as in recent years.
“Interestingly enough, there are kids going to the portal and leaving with a scholarship and finding difficulty in getting another scholarship at another institution,” Bowlsby said. “There are many walk-ons in the portal that are going from a non-scholarship environment trying to find a scholarship and you certainly can’t blame them for that.”
... The Big 12 has had conversations with football coaches and athletic directors about making participation reports mandatory each week.
“Well, it’s hard to say how far down the road it is,” Bowlsby said. “Frankly, I don’t know that we want to do anything that encourages gambling, not that that necessarily does. But the replicating what the NFL does with 32 teams is very different than replicating it across 700 schools that play football or 200 that play in Division I.”
... Bowlsby said there was one particular statistic he wanted to make sure everyone got.
“I want to see pencils moving and fingers tapping on this,” he said, before pointing out that in the Big 12’s seven bowl games last year, six of the opponents were held below their season averages offensively.
“Contrary to popular belief, there are kids that tackle in the Big 12,” he said.
Alabama’s dominance ranks among the most impressive dynasties in college football history.
It has also made the Southeastern Conference a bit stale recently as the league’s 14 teams gather for their annual media days this week in Hoover, Alabama.
This year, though, a group of talented and experienced quarterbacks could lead to a little more drama in the SEC — maybe. Georgia’s Jake Fromm, LSU’s Joe Burrow, Florida’s Feleipe Franks and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond are major reasons those teams feel they have a realistic chance of knocking Alabama off its title perch.
Still, the Tide will once again be regarded as a heavy favorite to win their fifth league title in six seasons. Coach Nick Saban — now in his 13th season in Tuscaloosa — returns several of his best players, including last year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa, who threw for 3,966 yards, 43 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Alabama blew through last year’s regular-season conference schedule by winning all eight games by at least three touchdowns. That success was largely forgotten after Clemson thumped Alabama, 44-16, in the national championship game, which will surely motivate the Tide going into 2019.
Other SEC topics
In a rare show of stability, the SEC didn’t have any head coaching changes during the offseason for the first time since 2006. Saban is the league’s longest-tenured coach at 13 seasons. The next two in seniority are Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, who are in year seven.
Two of the SEC’s high-profile coaching hires from a year ago worked out very well. Jimbo Fisher led Texas A&M to a 9-4 season while Dan Mullen jumped to Florida from Mississippi State and led the Gators to 10 wins. Now Fisher and Mullen will be expected to compete for their respective division titles in year two.
Florida gets a big early test, opening the season Aug. 24 against Miami in Orlando.
... Missouri is currently ineligible for the postseason after receiving a one-year ban from the NCAA as part of the punishment for academic misconduct involving a tutor. The school has appealed that ruling and hopes to get a final verdict soon.
Coach Barry Odom said Monday that he looks forward to closure, but no matter the outcome, his program remains focused on “having absolutely zero excuses.”
... Alabama returns an extremely talented team, even by its lofty standards. Tagovailoa gets a lot of the publicity because he’s the quarterback, but it’s not a one-man show. Among the standouts: Running back Najee Harris, receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, offensive linemen Jedrick Willis and Alex Leatherwood, defensive end Raekwon Davis and linebackers Dylan Moses and Anfernee Jennings.
... Kentucky showed patience while allowing Stoops to slowly build the program and it paid off with a 10-win season in 2018. Now the Wildcats will have to rebuild without some of their best players from a year ago, including running back Benny Snell, who ran for 1,449 yards and 16 touchdowns.
... After a two-year postseason ban because of NCAA rules violations, Mississippi is once again eligible to play in a bowl game. Third-year coach Matt Luke hired two veteran coordinators during the offseason — former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez on offense and Mike MacIntyre on defense — to help rebuild the roster. The two have more than 30 years combined of head coaching experience.