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For Big 12, the magic number is 4

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - In the middle of last week, when he was simultaneously hoping for financing for a new baseball stadium and packing a bag for the Big 12 Conference meetings in Kansas City, West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck marched in line with all the others who predicted not much would come out of that gathering of the league's ADs and presidents.

"'Boring' and 'uneventful' are words I'd never use because there are a lot of things that go on amongst a lot of people," Luck said, "but I don't think you'll see anything earth-shattering."

Days later, the earth remains intact and the conclusion of the meetings merely answered a few questions to which we thought we already had the answers.

How much money can WVU expect to make? Well, the Big 12 said it will give about $19 million to every school for the 2010-11 year - and it later reminded everyone the Mountaineers won't make their full share until the 2015-16 year. The new television deal, which is still unsigned, figures to be more lucrative. How much? Maybe $5-6 million more per school per year.

That $10 million loan the Big 12 extended to bail WVU out of the Big East? It's earning between 2 and 3 percent interest and pays the Big East $1 million a year. However, the Big 12 will likely look the other way after five years, which would confirm the Big 12 was the "very generous" and very anonymous donor WVU referenced upon settling up with the Big East.

More payouts? The Big 12 is actually against the NCAA's proposed stipend to student-athletes, though WVU was preparing to provide $2,000 to its student-athletes.

"We should never do anything to establish an employee-employer relationship," incoming Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. "There are places you can go and play for money, but colleges and universities are not among them."

The league's official position on the college football playoff? The schools prefer the model in which the top four teams are ranked by a human committee and play in semifinal games. The winners then play for the national championship.

None of that is really riveting, though. In fact, most of it was expected. Yet probably a lot of people expected some sort of certainty about expansion, or at least traction toward an eventual outcome.

Oh, one resolution was offered, but it's one to dismiss.

For now, the league is committed to staying at 10 teams. And for now it's wise to recall past lessons learned from this burgeoning business of college athletics: Don't believe it. Not when the decision makers pledge to 10 teams in one breath, but in the next admit that, yeah, they'd listen to Notre Dame if the Fighting Irish came crawling.

Sticking with 10 just doesn't seem realistic, not with the way teams and conferences are gobbling up all the power. The Big 12 might be at peace with 10 teams and the round robin schedule in football and the double round robin in basketball, but 10 isn't the number that matters now.

It's not 12 or 14 or even 16.

The magic number is four. In the very, very near future the ideal you once recognized as the Big Six conferences will be the Big Four.

The Pacific-12 is in. The Southeastern Conference is in. The Big Ten (+ 2) is in. Those are 12-, 14- and 12-team conferences.

There is virtually no debate that the Big 12 is one of the four best, not with its recent renaissance and Texas and Oklahoma maintaining perpetual relevance and people like Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis speaking significantly.

Yet at present, the 10-team Big 12 doesn't play the conference championship game. It needs two more teams to do that and to make a little less than an extra $1 million per school. That's the reward, but the Big 12 also needs to reconcile the cost. Four times in the BCS era has the Big 12 lost a spot in the national championship game because a contender lost the Big 12 championship game.

Still, the goal is to be a top-four conference and to manufacture top-four teams. The Atlantic Coast Conference is a 12-team league and perhaps the only threat to the Big 12's place among the top four conferences - put it this way, it's not the Big East the Big 12 is worried about these days.

But sometime, either in a meeting in Chicago next week or in Washington, D.C., at the end of the month, we're going to have a far more formative feeling about the playoff. It's going to be either the best four teams or three conference champions and a wild card.

Under the former, some method, be it human vote or computer ranking, will determine the four best overall teams to play the semifinals and the final. You could see multiple teams from one conference. Or two.

In the latter, it would be the three highest-ranked conference champions and one wild card, which again allows for a multi-bid conference.

At some point it has to become clear that the best way for schools to get into that playoff is to be a part of the top four conferences. Show of hands: Who thinks teams are hurrying to the ACC? This is about the consolidation of power now, and you need no more proof than the Champions Bowl the Big 12 and SEC concocted in May.

Teams from the ACC might soon understand finances and football are attached and are much more appealing in the Big 12 - and let's not kid ourselves and pretend Florida State and Clemson aren't much farther down the road than they're presenting themselves to be.

Similarly, the Big 12 may soon accept that the best way for its football teams to make the national semifinals, either in the top-four or the three-plus-one format, and compete regularly for a national title is to have 12 teams, a strong conference strength of schedule and a title game to convince both the computers and the humans it is a top-four conference with a top-four team - or two top four teams.

The easiest way to bolster the Big 12 may very well be to weaken the ACC. This is the playoff before the playoff, though the principle is the same: Survive and advance.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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