When the original list of expansion candidates for the two (or four) slots within the Big 12 Conference were revealed, there were some surprises as well as the usual suspects. Many news outlets listed the original 17 candidates in alphabetical order meaning that Arkansas State University was the first on the list. Of COURSE the Red Wolves were first (wait, what?) .
The media did its usual scoffing at the fact that a Sun Belt Conference school would dare sniff the rarefied air of a Power 5 Big 12 mountain top. Arkansas State was the only school on the list from the Sun Belt or C-USA conferences and joined Northern Illinois from the MAC as two of the more intriguing dark horse candidates. So the question is, why throw your hat in the ring for a seemingly unattainable goal, a longshot going off at 99-1?
Enter Terry Mohajir, Arkansas State University Athletic Director since September of 2012. Mohajir is a former defensive end turned administrator with a vision. He told staffers he didn’t want to hear why something couldn’t be done, only wanting to hear solutions to problems and to never use the phrase “this is how we’ve always done it.” With Mohajir’s ambition in consideration, it’s not hard to see why ASU’s name suddenly appeared on the extended list of potential candidates, regardless of their odds of getting to the P5 table.
Mohajir’s philosophy has led the athletic department to increase their budget almost two-fold in his four years at the helm and football season tickets have increased almost 300% in the same period. Facility upgrades at Centennial Bank Stadium have maximized revenues with club seating and skyboxes, bringing in an additional $1 million a year.
But does all of this sudden success off the field, along with 4 conference championships in 5 years on the football field merit an attempt to jump from the Sun Belt to the Big 12?
While Terry Mohajir certainly intends on pushing his program as far as he can before the inevitable leap to a larger, bigger budget P5 conference, he also knows that the landscape of conference affiliations can change as quickly as Oregon uniforms. Does anyone remember what Conference USA used to look like, oh so many years ago? Well, it looked a lot like the AAC does now. And CUSA now seems to resemble the Sun Belt part deux.
What does this all have to do with Mohajir’s Big 12 dreams? He says that he is glad that Arkansas State is part of the “national discussion” in conference realignment, but read between the lines and what he seems to be really saying is: The merry go round is about to start again, and when it stops, what will be left of the Big 12? There will probably not be a conference that still contains the likes of Oklahoma and Texas, who will likely bolt for better revenue streams and more long-term stability as the eventual shakeout of a Power 4 and everyone else within the FBS looms on the horizon.
Arkansas State has nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing their dog and pony show for schools that may be looking for conference mates sooner than later. And if that doesn’t mean a revamped Big 12, then it could mean a place in the new AAC or CUSA, which may start to look a lot like the old Sun Belt and lead to a rendezvous with some old friends.
“We’re getting the band back together!” ---“Joliet” Jake Blues