'We've got a long way to go': Tulane's ground attack shows promise, passing game struggles in spring game _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ-- Josh Rounds cuts through the line as Nico Marley closes in during Tulane's spring game played at Yulman Stadium in New Orleans, La. Saturday, April 16, 2016.

The roman numerals in the Big 12 logo may be accurate again soon. The question in New Orleans is whether one of them will represent a cresting Green Wave.

On Tuesday, Oklahoma president David Boren announced that conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby has been authorized to listen to schools interested in joining the Big 12, which currently stands at 10 members. He said the league could add as many as four schools.

Tulane’s interest in the Big 12 is obvious. The prospect of joining a Power Five conference could be a game-changer for the university in terms of revenue, visibility and local engagement.

Since being hired in December, Green Wave athletic director Troy Dannen has repeatedly said he’s eager to capitalize on any chance to move into a Power Five conference, and reiterated it again in the wake of the Big 12’s announcement.

“When I was introduced as athletic director last December, my goal was to ensure Tulane University was in a position, athletically, to take advantage of opportunities which may come our way,” Dannen said in a statement to The Advocate on Wednesday. “If an opportunity for candidacy in the Big 12 Conference presents itself, that is an opportunity we will certainly explore.”

The Big 12’s interest in Tulane is less clear.

While larger schools with more recent athletic success have come to the national media forefront as candidates — including Memphis, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Central Florida, Boise State and Houston — Tulane has also been mentioned as a potential outsider to watch.

And it’s not without merit.

Despite Tulane’s dismal records in the revenue-generating sports of football and men’s basketball since the turn of the century, several sources confirmed that university officials were invited to pitch to the conference in the summer of 2011 under the direction of former TU president Scott Cowen and athletic director Rick Dickson.

However, the Green Wave was ultimately passed over and landed in the American Athletic Conference a year later. Only TCU and West Virginia earned Big 12 invitations, as the league chose to add just two schools, despite losing four (Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri) over a two-year period.

Tulane’s most significant advantage in a heated competition is away from the field and revenue figures.

Not only does Dannen consider Bowlsby his mentor and a friend, the commissioner also recommended Dannen to the Tulane board during the university’s search to replace Dickson last fall.

“(Dannen) is one of those people who comes to work every day looking to make things better,” Bowlsby said when Dannen was hired in December. “I don’t think you can ask for a better trait in a leader than that. I think the world of Troy. He will be an absolutely outstanding athletic director at Tulane. He will love the New Orleans community, and he will thrive there. He is top-flight in every way.”

But Bowlsby isn’t the decider. The 10 university presidents in the Big 12 are the deciders.

As a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), Tulane is considered one of the top 62 research universities in North America. It’s a distinction many sources at Tulane believe is a critical factor in their pitch to those Big 12 presidents, who have seen the league lose three AAU members (Colorado, Missouri, Texas A&M) and not gain any in the past five years.

Tulane is one of just three AAU institutions that play FBS-level football without a home in a Power 5 conference. TU shares the distinction with only Rice and Buffalo, who are not considered to be viable contenders for Big 12 entrance.

Expansion candidates need to receive eight ‘yes’ votes from the 10 presidents in order to receive an invitation to the league. There’s no sure timetable for when the expansion will take place, although it could be as early as October.

“Tulane’s greatest assets in this regard include our academic reputation, our standing among the nation’s top research institutions as a member of the AAU and our location in the one of the premier cities in the country, New Orleans,” Dannen’s statement read. “We have made over $120 million in capital investments to our athletics facilities over the last several years and we have a veteran group of coaches on staff who have experienced competitive success at all levels.

“We are prepared to compete with and against the top institutions in the nation.”