As Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech gave formal approval to becoming members of the Big Eight Conference, sources close to the negotiations confirmed the league's latest expansion targets: Brigham Young and New Mexico.
Discussions about adding the two members from the Western Athletic Conference, along with the four existing Southwest Conference schools invited Monday to join the league, have been ongoing, said one source."Look at the map. You bring in Brigham Young and New Mexico and you've got all of central America. I've heard their names thrown around (in meetings)," said the source, noting that such additions would link together 14 schools from nine contiguous states that stretch from Texas to Iowa (south-north) and Utah to Missouri (west-east).
One Big Eight president expressed opposition to adding the two schools Wednesday night but confirmed they "might have some support" elsewhere. Tim Allen, Big Eight assistant commissioner, said league by-laws mandate a three-fourths vote to approve expansion.
New Mexico President Richard E. Peck did not return phone calls last night. BYU Vice President R.J. Snow confirmed an interest in joining a Big Eight-SWC alignment last week.
Rudy Davalos, New Mexico athletic director, reaffirmed the school's commitment to the WAC and questioned why Big Eight officials would consider expansion when they have a five-year, $60 million offer from ABC (with $30 million more from ESPN) for a 12-team league.
"That doesn't make any sense. Why would they need to expand? They've got their TV deal," Davalos said.
The answer, apparently, is to lock up two basketball programs that regularly win 20 games per season while strengthening the league's bargaining position for future TV negotiations.
Plucking those two schools from the Western Athletic Conference, which remains without a television contract after the 1995 season, would provide an expanded Big Eight-SWC with teams that are the most popular ratings draw in three of the four largest television markets in the mountain time zone (Denver, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque, N.M.) It also would increase the league's percentage of television households to roughly 20 percent of the nation, surpassing the 12-team Southeastern Conference (18 percent). The SEC's five-year, $85 million deal with CBS, signed Feb. 11, has triggered nationwide talks of conference realignment to maximize television potential.
If 16 teams emerge as conference members, speculation has centered on Memphis State and Louisville as the likely invitees.
One Big Eight administrator, who requested anonymity, said he has suggested to league officials that a 14-team league would be an optimal solution to minimize scheduling headaches. Such an arrangement, he said, would allow teams to be split into two seven-team zones.
In football, each school would play three home games and three road games against fellow zone members. It would play one home game and one road game against opponents from the other zone, plus three nonconference games. In basketball, a double round-robin schedule within each zone would mandate 12 games with up to four more - two home, two away - against opponents from the other zone.
In addition to the possibility of future TV revenue, New Mexico and BYU offer the prospect of regular sellouts in basketball arenas that seat 17,964 and 22,700, respectively. The BYU football team, which won a national championship in 1984, also fills 65,000-seat Cougar Stadium with regularity, but New Mexico struggles to sell out 30,646-seat University Stadium. Last season, New Mexico drew a school-record 33,659 fans - 3,000 above capacity - for its football game against BYU.
Adding the two schools, said one league administrator "makes sense."
"With New Mexico, you've got great basketball and the move would help them with football. Brigham Young is established in both sports . . . and you gain enough TV sets in Utah and New Mexico that you're equal to, or larger, than the SEC. That's critical," the source said.