Air Force is apparently still in the running for a spot in the Big 12, but only as a prospective “football only" member.
This is according to a report from CBS4 Denver, which cites a source close to Big 12 expansion. The source says the list of schools seeking a spot in the conference has been cut to six to eight after starting at 18.
No developments have been released on the record. The Gazette has requested correspondence between the Air Force Academy and the Big 12 Conference through the Freedom of Information Act, but information has not yet been provided.
Reached late Wednesday afternoon, an academy spokesman declined comment and referred The Gazette to a previous statement that said, in part, "one of our responsibilities is to constantly evaluate the landscape of collegiate athletics and act in a manner that is consistent with our mission of producing leaders of character for our Air Force and nation."
The CBS4 report indicates that Air Force and Colorado State are the only teams from the Mountain West still in the running. The Fort Collins Coloradoan cites an anonymous source saying the Rams are among the final eight candidates for expansion.
ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported Wednesday that UNLV and East Carolina have been informed by the Big 12 that they are no longer considered expansion candidates.
The “football only” caveat attached to Air Force represents a major development, if true. First, it would likely mean the academy would require a smaller piece of the Big 12’s revenue pie to join, which could certainly make its case more attractive to those wanting to keep that money. Also, the Falcons will not have to convince the existing Big 12 membership that it can be competitive in sports across the board either on the field or when it comes to facilities, which would have been a difficult sell considering the admission standards and requirements of cadet life. In football, however, Air Force has a history of strong play dating to the early 1980s to which it can point.
The Falcons are already putting money in Falcon Stadium, with two new scoreboards set to be unveiled in Saturday’s opener. If the Big 12 likes what a service academy brings to the table in terms of prestige and academics, and Air Force is able to show that an already-competitive football program could be Power Five ready with the added resources provided by Big 12 money, well, this could get interesting.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, who has guided the Falcons to eight bowl games in his nine years, noted that he had been recently told that “about 45 percent” of the team’s starters are from the Central Time Zone, where the bulk of the Big 12 is located.
“It’s not a coach's input or decision in any way,” Calhoun said of expansion talk. “Our administration here and certainly back in Washington D.C., they know the bigger scope in terms of what’s involved.
“I’ll say this, we absolutely won’t be disingenuous with the current partnership with which we are associated. The Mountain West Conference has been win-win, hopefully for everyone else, certainly as it has been for Air Force. We’ve got to make sure we’re grateful for the fact we’re in this league. In the bigger scope, gollee, again, that’s not the coach who has a viewpoint."
Calhoun added, “Would that hurt or would that help in terms of alumni following, alumni interest? That’s a question somebody else has got to answer.”
If Air Force football were to move to the Big 12, the fate of the academy's other sports that currently play in the Mountain West would be put into question. When Boise State and San Diego State were set to play football in the Big East in 2013, their other sports were headed to the Big West. That, of course, all fell through and the Broncos and Aztecs remained full members of the Mountain West. When BYU left to pursue life as an independent, a decision driven by football revenue, the other sports did not remain in the Mountain West.