The Big 12 is considering expansion. Which four schools make the most sense to bring on?
The Big 12 decided it’s time to at least explore the idea of expanding after the can appeared to be kicked down the road. And why? There’s just way, way, WAY too much potential revenue to ignore.
Which four schools would be the best fit? How should Big 12 expansion work?
The key is to think in terms of ten years from now instead of what the college football world might look like in 2017. Of course, President Baio might not yet have a handle on the zombie apocalypse and we all could have bigger issues by then, but forward-thinking college sports executives are planning out things decades down the road.
The Big 12 doesn’t want to be without a chair when the money music stops.
So if you think one specific program might not be all that terrific right now, that could change with the right coach and the right landscape by 2027.
Assume the people in charge of the Big 12 future know this, and also assume that at some point in the next few months I’ll take over the conference leadership role in a bloodless coup that grants me all of the power to do whatever I desire. After this happens, which four schools do I really want to expand the Big 12 brand?
Here’s my plan to – horrifically overused and tired theme alert, but it actually sort of applies here – Make The Big 12 Great Again.
First of all, here are the schools I don’t want.
– Boise State. It’s too tough. If I take Boise State, I need someone else on the left side of the country, and I don’t think I want that.
– BYU. I love the international fan base, but like Boise State, I’m not thinking of the West.
– Colorado State. See Boise State and BYU.
– Connecticut. Too far out of the geographic range. Good hoops, decent TV market potential, but UConn won’t play in Texas.
– East Carolina. Nice idea, but this is really more of an ACC school. Too tough to make a dent TV-wise.
– Memphis. Very, very close, but not quite. The FedEx Big 12 Championship sounds nice, but I can do better.
– Northern Illinois. Interesting in theory, but DeKalb isn’t Chicago. Despite being the Big Ten’s alumni feeder city, Chicago is a pro town.
Here’s my plan – with one caveat. I’m aware of just how nightmarishly sticky getting out of the contracts and tie-ins might be, and I know the out-clauses are going to be costly. I’m blowing all that off. I’m the idea guy – let the lawyers figure out the fine print.
Step One: See how happy Missouri and Colorado really are
Texas A&M isn’t going to want back in, and Nebraska isn’t returning after it couldn’t leave fast enough, but Mizzou still seems like a Big 12 fit in geography and attitude. Even though it’s crazy to think the school would leave the SEC, it’s at least worth floating a trial balloon.
Colorado might be a more practical pitch.
The Pac-12 is doing just fine in terms of making money, but it’s not crushing the Big 12. Getting Colorado and the Denver market back could make all the difference in moving the Big 12 to No. 3 on the revenue list behind the SEC and Big Ten.
The idea is to lobby the fans who remember when the program was actually good at playing football. This whole Pac-12 move hasn’t worked out so great, and the idea of being in an old school Big 12 North might seem a bit more appealing.
Fine, so I’m going all Laremy Tunsil gas mask on that, so to get into the land of the real …
Step Two: Immediately grab UCF and South Florida
These are the two sleeping giants out there among the Group of Five programs. They have massive enrollments, big TV markets, are in the thick of a tremendous recruiting base, and they add some pizzazz to the mix.
UCF has almost 61,000 students, while USF has around 49,000. Tampa-St. Pete is the 11th-biggest TV market, and Orlando is 19th. These are the numbers that matter.
Florida, Florida State and Miami might own the Sunshine State, but thinking several years from now, getting UCF and USF starts to build a rivalry and creates a whole new area for the conference. This would be the sexy move, and for some reason, the ACC hasn’t jumped all over it yet.
Step Three: Eh, screw it. C’mon aboard, Houston.
In terms of the Houston TV market, the school isn’t a necessary get with Texas up the road and in a state with Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU, too. But if I’m expanding to 14 teams – and I am – I’ll truly own Texas by inviting Houston.
With almost 43,000 students, it’s a massive school that’s twice as big as Memphis and has a far bigger football footprint.
The natural rivalries are obvious, but now I have to get a little bit funkier.
Step Four: Cincinnati, your table is ready.
I despise the “checks all the boxes” cliché, but Cincinnati does just that.
Close to 44,000 students – almost double of Louisville – the 34th-ranked TV market, and it’s just three hours away from Charleston, WV to create a friend for West Virginia, who’s on a sort of Big 12 island. Again, think of what’s possible a decade from now.
Step Five: Sit back and marvel at my Big 14 empire
Oh yeah, and I’m changing the name. If the Big 8 could go to the Big 12, and the Pac-10 could go to the Pac-12, then I’m doing this right.
Here’s what I’ve done by bringing on Cincinnati, Houston, South Florida and UCF.
1. I’ve created one hell of a Big 14 South: Baylor, Houston, Texas, TCU, Texas Tech, UCF and USF.
2. The Big 14 North makes perfect sense: Cincinnati, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
3. You want rivalry games, TV people? UCF vs. USF. Cincinnati vs. West Virginia. Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State. Kansas vs. Kansas State. All the Texas teams in one division. Over time, these showdowns will grow in status.
4. You want fans? I don’t care about the commuter aspect – lots of students means lots of alumni meaning lots of potential interest. The four schools I’m bringing in adds close to 200,000 students into the equation and an alumni base of millions. You want to go big? Here you go.
5. I’ve done just about as well as I can do with the TV markets getting a piece of Houston, Orlando, Tampa and Cincinnati.
6. I’ve expanded into the top recruiting areas. There will always be competition, but now the Big 14 has a base in the heart of Florida, parts of Ohio, and gets stronger in the Houston area. Boom.
No need to hire some rep firm or search committee, Commissioner Bowlsby. I just did your job for you. Make it happen for 2017.