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Honus "The Dude" Sneed looks at the issues surrounding rumored Big 12 expansion, Oliver Luck's tenure as AD, and where ACC teams fit on the Big 12 radar.

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Covering conference expansion is a dangerous game. All the action prior to the press conference announcing the move takes place via back channels and if it doesn’t work out all the parties involved will deny any discussions took place.

Conferences like the Big 12 insist that perspective members apply for membership. Schools like West Virginia will not apply unless they know they will be accepted.

It’s all a big game of “CYA” as the schools and conferences do their best to insulate themselves from legal retribution and embarrassment.

Thus the negotiations of conference realignment take place behind closed doors and leaks are few and far between. Everybody involved is highly motivated to keep quiet and the silence is deafening.

I don’t have all the pieces to the Big 12 expansion puzzle pieced together just yet. There are questions that remain unanswered and motivations that are still unclear.  What I do know for sure is that the Big 12 is determined not to sit back and let the SEC, ACC, Pac 12 or Big 10 determine its fate. Chuck Nienas and the member institutions have decide to proactive and move to solidify the future of the conference now.

Expansion talks are underway with many teams. I’ve been able to confirm that the Big 12 has talked to a number of ACC schools and Big East schools about expansion.

It’s still early in the process and no invitations have been extended just yet and I don’t expect any to be until late summer or early fall.

Several pieces of the expansion puzzle have yet to be turned over. One of those pieces is who will replace the interim commissioner. The Big 12 recently formed a committee to select a permanent commissioner and from what I’ve been told Oliver Luck is the leading candidate for the job.

Luck denied interest in the job but we’ve heard that before. He denied interest in the Athletic Director position at West Virginia too before Jim Clements announced he had been hired.

Luck has privately told those close to him that his agreement with Clements stipulated he would find a replacement for Bill Stewart and get the Mountaineers out of the Big East and then he would move on to something else.

That something else appears to be Commissioner of the Big 12 or President of the Houston Astros.

Luck’s experience as the Commissioner of NFL Europe and the connections he made working directly for Paul Tagliabue give him an advantage over the other candidates. He also has the support of the University of Texas.

Luck is reportedly a major player in Big 12 expansion talks with ACC schools and his resume would be hard to reject if he convinced Clemson and FSU to leave the ACC for the Big 12.

The other major factor in expansion roulette is money.  The Big 12’s tier 1 television rights currently belong to ESPN. The deal is reportedly worth $60 million.  Tier 2 rights belong to Fox and that contract is worth an estimated $1.17 billion through 2025.

ESPN’s contract with the Big 12 stipulates a minimum of 10 teams. The contract is a holdover from before Nebraska and Colorado left for greener pastures.  ESPN agreed to honor the contract despite the defections as long as they conference had at least 10 members.

West Virginia’s decision to “damn the legal torpedoes” and play in the Big 12 for the 2012 season is partly due to the fact that they’re needed to keep the TV contract in place.

Expanding from 10 to 12 would not automatically mean the conference could renegotiate the current deal with ESPN because the current contract was agreed to when the conference had 12 members.

Expand to 14 however and the contract would almost certainly be torn up and redone.

And that’s where the Big 12 expects to cash in and move ahead of the SEC in terms of TV revenues. They can either renegotiate or allow the contract to expire and see what their Tier 1 TV rights are worth on the open market.

Regardless of what the Big 12 decides they expect the TV money for their Tier 1 rights to at least triple to somewhere in the neighborhood of $195 million per year.

If  you’re doubting the validity of that number remember that ESPN offered the Big East over $1 billion for the disrespected conference’s tier 1 TV rights.

The question I have yet to answer is this: is the amount of money on the table for the Big 12   enough to entice teams like Clemson, FSU, Georgia Tech, and Maryland to bolt the ACC?

Certainly money isn’t the only factor, but it’s the only factor, aside from the increased level of competition, that makes  such a defection plausible.

So let’s assume that the money and the prestige of playing in the nation’s premier college football conference are enough to lure teams away from the ACC ? Here’s my best bet at where the leading contenders stand in terms of Big 12 Expansion.

Clemson

Expansion Status: Actively talking with the Big 12.

Barometer: 35% and rising

Interesting: Clemson formed a special committee to look at infrastructure issues rumored to centered around issues with Big 12 membership.

FSU

Expansion Status: Actively talking with the Big 12.

Barometer: 35% and rising

Interesting: FSU will neither confirm or deny talks with Big 12.

Georgia Tech

Expansion Status: Actively talking with the Big 12.

Barometer: 25%

Interesting:  Not a land-grant institution.

Maryland

Expansion Status: Actively talking with the Big 12.

Barometer: 25%

Interesting:  Close ties to WVU means Maryland is high on Big 12’s wish list.

Boston College

Expansion Status: Actively talking with the Big 12.

Barometer: 15%

Interesting:  Only as a partner to ND.

Louisville

Expansion Status: Actively talking with the Big 12.

Barometer: 75%

Interesting:  Not a land-grant institution.

BYU

Expansion Status: Actively talking with the Big 12.

Barometer: 45%

Interesting:  National TV draw, small DMA. Concerns

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