5 thoughts on the Big 12 expansion talks
The Big 12 conference has seen a big upheaval in the past two months. Arguably, no conference has been hit harder by the realignment than the Big 12. Before the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns jointly announced that they would be leaving the conference for the SEC, the Big 12 s’ four of their programs had already been stolen. .
In the middle of the final round of realignment, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri left for the Pac-12, the Big 10 and the SEC. Two big brands in college football walked through the door and the Big 12 struggled to find answers.
With only eight schools remaining, they decided that expanding to 10 was the only decision that made sense at the time and added TCU and West Virginia to their ranks. It was a move they had to make, but in light of who’s gone, the Big 12 certainly suffered a net loss.
And here we are ten years later and the Big 12 is considering losing its two main programs, but getting a little more proactive in expanding to replace Oklahoma and Texas.
According to a report from The Athletic (subscription required), the Big 12 is considering adding BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF to their ranks.
They’re moving quickly to respond to the loss of OU and Texas, and here are five thoughts on the latest Big 12 expansion talks.
Expansion is the right decision
Creating a planning alliance with one of the other Power Five conferences alone was not going to be enough to keep the Big 12 in Power Five status. Eight schools weren’t going to be able to withstand the rest of the nation’s top football conferences, so expansion was the only thing to go.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and college leaders had to find a way to move without standing still. The four schools they are reportedly adding to the conference are moving the needle.
These are not Power Five programs, but they are in important markets that help the conference attract more viewers on Saturdays. And that’s what it is.
The top four choices
The addition of BYU, Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF makes as much sense as any school in the country. The addition of these four schools brings three huge media markets as well as one of college football’s biggest brands.
Oklahoma State and Texas Tech will now have games broadcast in Ohio and Florida, two of the nation’s biggest recruiting hotspots. TCU and Baylor will have a nationwide audience with clashes against BYU. Houston provides the conference with an important foothold in one of the country’s largest media markets.
Despite all the missteps the Big 12 conference has made over the past decade, this is an important move in branding and marketing the conference.
Improves competitive depth
From a competitive standpoint, these four schools have had an impact on the national conversation at different times over the past decade.
BYU is still putting a solid product on the court and vying for a spot in the New Year’s Six Bowls last season. We all remember the opening season loss in 2009 that injured Sam Bradford. Zach Wilson was the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Cougars have always been willing to step up the competition to give their team a boost in the national title conversation.
Houston just a few years ago brought down Oklahoma in Tom Herman’s day. While things haven’t gone well under Dana Holgerson, the Cougars have had one of the most competitive group-five teams in the country for the past two decades. From 2007 to 2018, Houston only had two losing seasons before Holgerson arrived.
Cincinnati was the darling of the Group of Five in 2020. Desmond Ridder is a contender for Heisman in 2021 and a potential first-round pick in the NFL Draft in 2022. They appear to be a contender for the college football playoffs this season’s. they can navigate the American Athletic Conference schedule smoothly.
UCF was the hot name for the Group of Five CFP push during the final years of Scott Frost’s tenure and during the Josh Heupel era. Frost led them to a 13-0 record and Heupel had a 12-10 win season before leaving for Tennessee. Now armed with Guz Malzahn, they bring in a head coach with a legitimate Power Five resume. Malzahn helped lead the Auburn Tigers to the BCS National Championship game in 2013. While the Tigers never achieved the same level of success as that season, Auburn has only had one season with fewer seven wins and has finished in the AP top 25 five times. in eight seasons.
The decision to add these four schools to the Group of Five will add great depth to a conference that has been greatly underestimated in this regard.
What about SMU?
The only other school that would have made sense for the Big 12 is Southern Methodist University, based in Dallas. The Mustangs, like Houston, are in a big media market and already have an annual game with Fort Worth neighbor TCU.
Maybe they didn’t want redundancy in the Dallas-Fort Worth media market. Maybe they didn’t want another school to compete with the already tough Big 12 recruiting efforts. Who knows, but SMU makes a lot of sense as a Big 12 school.
A former member of the Southwestern Conference before the “death penalty” SMU was an early powerhouse in college football history.
What does this mean for OU and Texas?
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has been adamant in his desire to keep the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns throughout the 2024 season, when the current media rights deal expires.
And of course it is. There is a lot of money at stake for the Big 12 and its members. This is why the remaining eight Big 12 schools are so frustrated. Their portfolios, and ultimately the commissioner’s wallet, lighten a bit when the OU and Texas go to the SEC.
In order for the Sooners and Longhorns to take a step forward into the 2025 season, there will need to be an agreement that allows the two schools to break their contracts. Ultimately, both universities will have to shell out money to make Bowslby and the Big 12 worth it while still allowing their two most profitable products to leave for the SEC.
Bowlsby and the Big 12 have contractual leverage and they know it. They can and will make it difficult for OU and Texas to leave. This is how they will be paid.
But that’s how it will end, and likely in 2022. As new schools are invited to the dance and a plan for the Big 12’s future emerges, negotiations will begin in earnest for the OU and the Texas separate from the Big 12.
Bonus: Addition of two cougars
If the proposed expansion takes place and the Big 12 adds Houston and BYU, the conference will take place in this odd location where the SEC is located, where there are multiple schools with the same mascot.
The SEC has three schools that are represented as “Tigers” in LSU, Auburn and Missouri. They have two schools whose mascot are the “Bulldogs”.
The Big 12 would then have two “Cougars” schools in BYU and Houston. Obviously, it’s not that bad, it just feels weird talking about the inevitable clash between the Cougars and Cougars.
Another bonus: finally back to 12
Branding is important, but it never made sense for the Big 12 conference to only have 10 teams. Of course, the die-hard college football fan knew the difference between the Big 12 and the Big 10, but the casual fan wondered, “Why? The Pac-10 didn’t want to confuse anyone, so they changed their name. Of course, it was easier for them to be the one “Pac”.
Before the Big 10 expanded again to 14, they were at 12 and the Big 12 was at 10. The Big 10 responded by changing their logo to the B1G, which removed the “10” from their marketing. It was a smart answer to the question “why are you the Big 10 if you have 12 (now 14)?”
The Big 12 has always left that answer hanging in the winds of Oklahoma. But now, with this proposed expansion, all is well with the world.