The possibility of expansion has completely bubbled over in the Big 12 — to the point where anyone associated with the conference can’t step in front of a microphone without being asked about it, no matter how close they actually are to the decision making process — but the topic has percolated behind the scene for months.
Jake Trotter of ESPN.com uncovered documents and correspondence between leaders at Cincinnati, Memphis, Houston, Central Florida and Colorado State to the Big 12’s movers and shakers — primarily West Virginia president Gordon Gee, Oklahoma president David Boren and Baylor president Kenneth Starr, the CEOs that comprise the conference’s composition committee.
Gee flew to Houston in November to meet with U of H president Renu Khator, athletics director Hunter Yuracheck, head coach Tom Herman, three of the school’s regents, vice chancellor Eloise Stuhr and Camden Property Trust CEO Rick Campo — reportedly a key figure in securing next year’s Super Bowl for Space City. Khator even got the picture to prove it.
Memphis buttressed its pitch with dollar signs, pledging half a billion dollars in athletics and academic improvements in the next five years and support from FedEx in the form of corporate sponsorship for a renewed Big 12 football championship game. “We strongly support the university’s efforts to become a member of an expanded Big 12 athletic conference,” FedEx CEO Fred Smith wrote to Memphis president David Rudd in February. “In support of [Memphis’] Big 12 aspirations, we have researched college conference sponsorships and are prepared to become a major Big 12 sponsor of football and basketball.”
Gee corresponded with CEOs from Central Florida and Colorado State, telling UCF president John Hitt, “Be assured that the University of Central Florida is very much on our radar screen,” and Colorado State president Tony Frank, “Colorado State is making a statement and moving swiftly into the forefront of universities, not only in your region but nationally.”
The Big 12 requires eight votes to approve expansion, and a straw poll is said to be one vote short with Texas, Texas Tech and TCU voting against it. Big 12 presidents and chancellors will gather at the league’s suburban Dallas headquarters beginning May 31 with the goal of coming to a resolution on the conference’s future.