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With the announcement Thursday that the Pac-12 Conference will not explore expansion in the near future, the fracturing Big 12 will throw its energy into looking at potential new members, Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt said.
The Texas Tech athletics director is part of a four-person expansion subcommittee tasked with leading the effort, which starts immediately.
"Right now, our complete focus is to make the Big 12 as strong as it can possibly be," Hocutt said, "and I expect that Texas Tech will play a leadership role in that. We're going to continue to be part of the Power Five structure in college athletics."
Hocutt said Baylor AD Mack Rhoades, Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod and Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen are the others on the subcommittee. The Big 12 in the past few days has enlisted Oliver Luck, the former West Virginia AD and XFL commissioner, as a consultant to aide in working through realignment.
Describing the group as already "active," Hocutt said they will meet with the Big 12 presidents early Friday and will have in-person meetings next week involving Big 12 athletics directors and media and television consultants.
"We're continually talking to commissioner (Bob) Bowlsby as well as Oliver Luck," Hocutt said, "and feel very fortunate to have Oliver engaged in our conversations in helping us navigate the waters as well."
Earlier this week, the Pac-12, Big Ten and Atlantic Coast conferences announced an alliance. Though that agreement does not have a signed contract, the commissioners said they want to work together on scheduling and voting on other issues in the changing landscape of college sports.
The Pac-12 issued a statement Thursday afternoon, saying the conference had no plans to pursue expansion "at this time."
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Hocutt spoke hours later before a Red Raider Club kickoff event at which U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, addressed Tech fans. A Tech contingent has been seeking redress from the state's political leaders since Texas and Oklahoma threw the future of the Big 12 into disarray with decisions to leave for the Southeastern Conference by July 1, 2025.
"We've been very fortunate to have the political support," Hocutt said. "Senator Cruz being here this evening at this kickoff event is terrific. We've got the opportunity to go down and meet with Governor (Greg) Abbott yet again tomorrow afternoon. This will be our third or fourth opportunity to talk to him.
"We had a chance to visit with Lieutenant Governor (Dan) Patrick last week. They've all pledged their support and their commitment to stand behind Texas Tech University and their willingness to help Texas Tech University in the journey ahead.
"We appreciate their willingness to engage and support us and feel really fortunate to have their leadership as we continue to navigate forward."
Speaking from the stage, Cruz told Red Raiders fans that Tech matters in West Texas, across the state and nationally. He said he was in Minneapolis two years ago, "cheering on Tech" in the championship game of the men's NCAA Tournament.
"College football right now is in flux. This is an uncertain time," Cruz said. "But I want to say something clearly and unequivocally: Texas Tech belongs in a Power Five conference."
Asked what he sees as the ideal number of teams for the Big 12 and a timeline to make additions, Hocutt deferred, saying those are the same questions conference leaders are in the process of discussing.
The Athletic, citing an unnamed source, reported Wednesday that at least 15 schools, most from the American Athletic Conference and the Mountain West, have contacted the Big 12 to express interest in joining.
"There is a lot of interest in the Big 12 Conference," Hocutt said. "There is a lot of interest for people to be associated with us, to join with us. So we will take our time, be diligent and make sure we make the right strategic decisions for the long-term future."
The Big 12 isn't necessarily obligated to add and must consider how offering revenue shares to other schools could reduce the cut for existing members.
It may not be a fast process.
"There's no more important topic that's in front of us right now," Hocutt said, "and will be in front of us once the season kicks off and for the next couple of years, I would imagine. It'll continue to be front and center for myself and I know for President (Lawrence) Schovanec as well."
He said the role of the subgroup is to "guide conversations as to how we can rebuild the Big 12 Conference to be as strong as possible, to continue to be a Power Five athletic conference going forward.
"It's been expanded now to include all the group of (Big 12) presidents. It's really to look toward the future and talk about how we want to position ourselves and how we want to grow into the future."
Hocutt took thinly-veiled shots at the movers and shakers behind the latest realignment moves. He said that trust has been broken "and without trust, there's very little relationships."
"I'm not sure that we've ever seen so much distrust and just turbulence within college athletics as we're seeing now," he said, "and it's really unfortunate, the lack of relationships and trust. I think we've got to really re-establish some foundational aspects of college athletics as we move forward because things are changing and they're changing fast. It's a different time, and it's going to be different in the next five or 10 years."
This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Big 12 Conference looking to expand, Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt says