DALLAS -- Decision day has finally arrived for the Big 12. Or, perhaps, another day of more indecision.
After months of contemplating expansion, the Big 12's presidents and chancellors will congregate Monday to deliberate on whether they should expand or stand pat.
One way or another, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who has been negotiating with expansion candidates, will push the presidents to be decisive, to prevent this expansion drama from dragging on any longer. But there also have been signs to suggest the Big 12 could kick the expansion can still further down the road.
Whatever happens, it should be a fascinating day. Here's what you need to know going in:
Anything is possible
In the summer of 2010, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were all but done deals to go to the Pac-12. Then, within 24 hours, the pact crumbled thanks in part to Texas state politics and the Longhorn Network proposal.
The moral of the story? Just about anything can happen Monday.
The Big 12 presidents stunned outsiders in July when they unexpectedly voted unanimously to begin exploring expansion. They could come out of this meeting with another surprise announcement.
Though there has been almost no momentum for expansion over the last month, Bowlsby has pushed for the Big 12 to be aggressive. He has the respect of the room, and could disclose evidence or data that compels the presidents to rethink their positions on certain expansion candidates -- or on the premise of expansion in general.
Networks could end process
As Sports Illustrated reported Friday, the premise of the networks discussing the possibility of buying out the pro-rata clause has been "gaining traction," according to Big 12 sources. The pro-rata clauses in the existing deals have driven the Big 12 to consider expansion, since they would require the networks to pay the conference up to $25 million annually for each new member.
What dollar figure would it take for the two sides to reach a deal to kill the expansion debate? That remains unknown.
"Nothing yet is on the table," one Big 12 source said Friday.
From the beginning, the networks buying their way out of these pro-rata clauses has been an option. But just because the Big 12 and the networks are talking about this possibility, that doesn't mean it will translate into an agreement. The deadline of Monday's board meeting could be what is stimulating more serious discussion -- with ESPN, Fox and the Big 12 simply doing their due diligence.
The moment of truth for candidates
The Big 12 has disclosed that any new member would have to get a supermajority, or eight votes, to receive an invitation. Beyond that, the Big 12 has been mum about the procedure it will use to deliberate on expansion candidates. The conference could discuss each of the 11 candidates individually, then vote on whether to expand. Or the league could vote generally on whether to expand (which would probably pass), then determine whether any of the candidates can produce the requisite eight votes.
Either way, this will be a massive day for the 11 expansion finalists -- Air Force, BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Connecticut, Houston, Rice, South Florida, SMU and Tulane -- many of which have poured tremendous time and resources into presenting their case for inclusion to the Big 12.
Getting into a Power 5 conference would be a game-changer for any one of them, financially and competitively, while elevating their status athletically and, in some cases, academically.
Likewise, if the Big 12 votes against expansion, it would be a devastating disappointment, most notably for BYU, Cincinnati and Houston, which have long been considered the expansion front-runners -- as well as for Central Florida, Connecticut and South Florida, which entered this process with justifiable optimism about their chances.
This might very well be their final shot to exit the Group of 5 station. Which is why the stakes of Monday's meeting aren't just high for the Big 12 itself.