If The Big 12 Expands, Which Schools Do They Take?

The Big 12 might once again get to live up to its name.

Discussions about expanding from 10 teams to 12 – or 14 – have reopened, after the Big 12’s board of directors voted unanimously to research expansion candidates. Following last Tuesday’s vote, commissioner Bob Bowlsby told reporters he will begin research, “definitely a step forward” toward issuing invitations. A vote could be made as early as October; with schools could move as early as the 2017 football season.

Below are expansion candidates that have been mentioned by members of the media, universities and college football experts. Here are a few things to keep in mind about the schools on this list:

  • Distance matters – A school that’s on the other side of the country opposed to one that’s closer to a nearby region will receive less attention.
  • Having a positive net revenue to share is vital – Big 12 wants to make sure that the schools they add are set financially, so acquiring ones that are short of money won’t work.
  • Tangible assets – Can you give me something unique? That’s ultimately what could be the deciding factor through all of this. Does a school possess resources like a new stadium or a surge of attendance that makes them stand out from the rest.

Before we start, let me inform to you how this is broken up. First off, each candidate is broken up into a section. Each section means something different. It starts from the most likely of schools that have everything going for them, to the schools that need a little polishing up to do in order to be named, and lastly the schools that are contenders but don’t have enough resources or don’t make logically sense to make it happen. Let’s get started.

Makes all the sense in the world, let’s make it happen

Houston Cougars: The most persuasive sales pitch that Houston can offer Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is location. The Cougars campus makes sense geographically as it’s centered in a mass media hotbed. Houston already has a top-10 TV market, as well as an up-and-coming football program under head coach Tom Herman that recorded a 13-win season a year ago. Just last season, Houston saw a 20 percent rise in attendance, however they drew only 6,000 more fans than Kansas, a team who finished 0-12 in 2015.

With that said, it’s obvious that Houston carries tangible assets that makes partnering with the conference plausible. Houston fits right in with the conference’s niche as a football dominant school with wide-spread outlets to utilize at its disposal. The pondering question that makes this school’s connection with the conference unclear is this: would its addition to the Big 12 oversaturate the conference and possibly make it weaker? A statement that was offered by ESPN’s Jake Trotter.

“By adding Houston, you’d be giving recruits a reason to go to Houston instead of, say, Texas or Oklahoma or Baylor or Oklahoma State,” Trotter said. Parity can be good in a league, however in Houston’s case, it can also dilute the quality of a conference. That’s something the Big 12 will be trying to avoid throughout the process.

Memphis Tigers: The Big 12 already contains a plethora of schools – too much in fact – bunched up in the southwest region of America (like Oklahoma and Texas). By adding Memphis this opens up a chance for the conference to expand eastward and to finally link a partner to West Virginia, who has no credible rivals at the moment. The past two seasons, the program has seen a drastic improvement in win total – tallying up 19 wins – as well as exposure, having QB Paxton Lynch drafted 26th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Attendance has creeped up methodically ever since their stadium, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, ramped up its seating to 62,500. The Tigers have seen a 29 percent rise in sales, drawing 43,802 per game. That was more than 13 Power Five teams last year.

Cincinnati Bearcats: A lot of the qualities that Memphis offers, such as geographic location, revenue, and logistical reasoning, Cincinnati shares as well. The Bearcats are fed up with trying to discover a partner east of the Mississippi River, especially ones that hold value inside a Power Five conference. Currently, Cincinnati sits atop the American Athletic Conference (AAC) with Memphis. A conference that is bringing in less than $200 million per season and that saw a 45% decrease in payouts, losing $15.2M in the fall of 2016. This makes it the lone conference out of the 10 other Division-1 conferences that lost money last year.

After whiffing on Louisville – a school that best fits to their midwestern market – the Big 12’s best option available is Cincinnati. Like the Cardinals, the ‘Cats offer both basketball and football programs that have engineered consistent winners. The football program has accumulated 82 wins since 2007 (16th best in FBS) and the men’s basketball team have reached the NCAA Tournament each of the past six seasons. Cincinnati is also in a relatively large TV market, one that will only grow if it decides to move to a conference that holds more exposure.

Perhaps, but there’s more I want to know

Boise State Broncos: It’s all about location and opportunity for Boise State. The Broncos would be the farthest west out of any school in the conference. That in itself makes for an intriguing destination. However, it’s going to be up to the Big 12 board of directors that must feel that expanding out west is a good investment.

Boise stands out the most to all the other candidates as their on-field success blows everyone out of the water. Case in point, the Broncos have achieved the most wins in FBS since 2000 with 176. In addition, they’ve taken home three major bowl wins, all coming via the Fiesta Bowl in 2007, 2009 and 2015. The Broncos’ sustained dominance is beyond belief, but it goes without saying how it would translate on a bigger stage in a Power Five conference.

Because, Boise shares similar paths as TCU did five years ago. The Horned Frogs from 2005-2011 were title contenders in their own right, chalking up 11-to-12 wins a seasons in a conference – Mountain West – that lacked big-time exposure. Of course, things have now changed for TCU as they’re financially stable in the Big 12 and have flourished underneath the brighter spotlight.

Geographics aside, the Big 12 can greatly benefit by taking TCU’s carbon copy under their wing for the future. By having the Broncos in the conference could mean expansion opportunities for TV networks by adding a night game late on Saturdays. Exposure like that is what a program like Boise State desperately needs in order to compete with the bigger schools across the country.

BYU Cougars: There is a lot of upside in BYU coming to the Big 12. First, they’re a high-profile school with a large TV market. That alone is something not a lot of schools possess. Second, they’re another candidate out west which provides more and more intrigue for expanding. The Cougars have built a consistent winner over the years, appearing in a bowl each of the past 11 seasons.

The drawback however, is that BYU is currently an independent (meaning they aren’t affiliated with a conference in football). This could make their inclusion to the conference restricted to football, potentially giving the Big 12 no choice but to reject their offer. In addition, BYU carries a lot of baggage with their own TV market. If you can remember, a separate TV deal was put into place by Texas in 2012 – called the Longhorn Network – this became a problem for the remaining Big 12 schools who were being sapped revenue. The jealousy grew to exponential levels to programs like Missouri and Nebraska who ultimately fled to greener pastures (Nebraska joined forces with the Big Ten and Missouri to SEC.) The Big 12 doesn’t want another conundrum like that again, which makes BYU’s case cloudy to sort through.

Colorado State Rams: The Big 12 used to share a partnership with Colorado State’s rival, Colorado Buffaloes, from the conference’s inception in 1996 to 2011 before leaving for the Pac 12 the following season. The chance that a different school in the Rocky Mountains joins the Big 12 is still however, meritable. The Rams are positioned relatively close to existing Big 12 members, Kansas and Kansas State, plus their new stadium is set to open in 2017.

Last year, Colorado State saw a decrease in attendance with just over 24,000 fans at each home game, but that probably stems to the team having a down year (went 7-6 last season before winning 10 games in 2014.) Colorado State’s addition is probably the most applicable out of the other candidates out west, but it still wouldn’t help West Virginia find a travel partner. And that’s WVU’s president Gordon Gee’s ultimate goal.

No chance, but it’s fun to imagine

UCF Knights: Outside of creating recruiting and TV exposure, expanding all the way out to Florida seems like a lost cause for the Big 12. Central Florida’s campus is 900 miles away from the nearest Big 12 school, West Virginia, and that’s too far for current conference teams to travel to. UCF is trying to rebuild its image in football under first-year head coach Scott Frost who inherits a team that went winless last season. In addition, the Knights have only been a FBS affiliate since 1996, so for the Big 12 to accept a school who hasn’t settled into a conference long-term yet is a gamble that may never materialize.

UConn Huskies: Unfortunately for UConn, their location and most lucrative sport handcuffs themselves in landing a reputable shot of moving to Big 12. We know the Huskies are kings of the crop in basketball, especially with women’s program driving the ship. By going to the Big 12, the Huskies would provide competition to blue-blood Kansas as well as stabilize the shape of the conference.

However, football drives the money and the Huskies’ football program hasn’t lit the world on fire recently. To put it simply, UConn haven’t finished above .500 in the last five years (the last time they did so was 2010 when they lost in the Fiesta Bowl to Oklahoma 48-20). Their attendance is worse than Kansas’, too, so that doesn’t help their cause.

As far as forming a rivalry with West Virginia is concerned, UConn fits the bill better than Cincinnati and Memphis does. However, Connecticut is even more farther away from the remaining Big 12 schools, which pretty much destroys their case.

SMU Mustangs: In a way, SMU sort of makes the same sense as Houston. The Mustangs’ campus centered in Dallas would be easier to travel, and it appears that Chad Morris is turning the football program around. But SMU’s biggest blemish outweighs them all. As SMU’s addition to the Big 12 would further complicate the already-existing recruiting wars in Texas. Not to mention, the Mustangs’ reputation for major off-field allegations, which stems back to their death penalty in 1987, that caused termination of the program for a whole season. Just last season SMU was in the thick of swarming NCAA violations on the men’s basketball program which ultimately deducted future scholarships and banned from postseason play in 2016.

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