The Big 12 Conference this week has put together a list of finalists to consider for expansion of the 10-school league.
The University of New Mexico, which was one of a reported 30 schools expressing interest in joining the conference, did not make the cut.
UNM President Robert G. Frank confirmed the Lobos have been informed of the conference’s decision.
“Having the UNM Lobos considered in the expansion of the Big 12 Conference has given us the opportunity to showcase our Athletics Program, UNM, Albuquerque and New Mexico,” Frank wrote in a statement to the Journal. “This process has allowed us to reflect the pride we have in our successes and the commitment of our amazing fan base. We received very positive feedback from the Big 12, and look forward to continuing as a proud and competitive member of the Mountain West Conference in the upcoming season. Go Lobos!”
In mid-July, the 10-member Big 12 announced it was open to expanding to 12 or 14 members.
Two Mountain West schools still in the running, according to media reports in Colorado, are Air Force as a possible football only member, according to CBS4 television in Denver, and Colorado State as a full member, according to the Fort Collins Coloradoan.
A CSU spokesman told the Coloradoan he could not comment due to a confidentiality agreement with the Big 12.
UNM, meanwhile, fulfilled on Wednesday an Inspection of Public Records Act request from the Journal that included very little indication the Big 12 or any of its member institutions were interested in the Lobos, at least not through any channels of written correspondence.
Frank sent a two-page letter to Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby on July 22 formally announcing UNM’s interest in joining the conference days after its expansion plans were made public.
In that letter, Frank touted several of UNM academic achievements through the years, its relative success in the Mountain West Conference, noted it is located in the 48th largest media market in the country and even pointed out that the football team “has been to six Bowl games in the last 14 years.”
He also sent the letter to the 10 university presidents of each school in the league.
Bowlsby replied on his iPhone to that letter two days letter thanking UNM for its interest.
UNM athletic director Paul Krebs told the Journal on Aug. 5 that “there has been communication with the Big 12 office back and forth,” but wouldn’t expand on the nature of those conversations.
He also said: “I think it’s important that our fans know that we’re very happy members of the Mountain West Conference. … But we’re always going to look out for what’s in the best interest of the University of New Mexico and, in this case, our student athletes.”
That same day, Krebs had a telephone conversation with Bowlsby about UNM’s interest. Krebs followed that conversation up with an email on Aug. 8, thanking him for the telephone conversation. Bowlsby replied to Krebs via email, writing: “Thanks Paul. I enjoyed our conversation. Congratulations on all of your successes.”
On Aug. 25, Frank sent Bowlsby and each university president a brochure of UNM academic and athletic accolades and closed that letter with: “We look forward to continuing the conversation.”
According to the documents UNM gave to the Journal, there was no other written correspondence from anyone at UNM to anyone at the Big 12 since July 1 and, other than Bowlsby’s two email replies, nobody from the Big 12 conference or any member institution ever wrote to UNM about expansion in that time. The IPRA request does not cover telephone correspondence.
Football, and the television contracts that come with it, has been the driving force in the recent boom of conference expansion, and it’s no secret UNM has struggled on that front.
Lobo football attendance in 2015, despite a winning record and a bowl game appearance, was 23,528 on average. (The Lobos were one of two schools allowed to include their bowl game appearance toward their average home attendance.) That ranked 84th in the nation and would have ranked last in the Big 12 — nearly 4,000 fewer fans per game than Kansas (27,282) and nearly 23,000 fans behind Baylor, the Big 12’s ninth-ranked home attendance team (46,160).
Among the schools around the country confirming they didn’t make the Big 12’s cut was UNM’s fellow Mountain West member UNLV. In a statement from school president Len Jessup and athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy, the Rebels were informed of the Big 12’s decision on Tuesday.