The current state of the Big 12 conference is leading to many questions and the situation is very muddled and complex for even some of the most ardent college football fans. I’m inundated with questions from fans trying to understand what’s going on so hopefully this blog post helps clarify what’s happening with the league.
1. Yes, the Big 12 will likely expand and add new schools
In spite of denials from some people, the Big 12 is very likely going to expand. In addition to Oklahoma’s president Dave Boren, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder and Baylor coach Art Briles are starting to be more vocal publicly in their support for expansion.
Any denials that you may hear about the conference expansion are just trying to calm the waters a bit and to gain more leverage behind the scenes. This is the same reason why the SEC denied it was considering Texas A&M after the story first broke to the public a few years ago.
2. Why will they expand?
Short Answer: The college football landscape is rapidly changing and the Power 5 conferences are all trying to bring in as much revenue as possible. The Big 12 is the smallest Power 5 conference and needs to expand, primarily, to ensure their stability against outside poachers.
ESPN and Fox Sports are working very hard behind the scenes with the Big 12 school presidents as they all decide which route to take and which schools to add. Due to their interests in other conference tv networks, Fox Sports seems to want UCF to join and ESPN is likely pushing for either Houston or BYU.
3. What happens if they can’t agree on expansion?
If the conference isn’t able to agree on expansion, it’s likely Oklahoma and Kansas could head to the Big Ten conference. Another possibility is a combination of Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State could head to the Pac 12 and West Virginia heads to the ACC. The five remaining Big 12 teams would be able to retain their Power 5 status if they add another five schools to the conference.
If the Big 12 schools aren’t able to come to any sort of agreement and the conference ends up completely collapsing, it’s very likely some of the less prominent schools (such as: Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State, and Texas Tech) could be left out of the major Power 5 conferences. None of them are as strong academically or in a large enough media market to be attractive to the SEC, Big 10, Pac 12, or ACC. This is why some of these schools have been vocal about expansion.
4. The former Big 12 North likely supports Houston for membership
Yes, the other Texas schools will always have an easy time recruiting in Houston, but the rest of the conference (KU, KSU, Iowa State, and possibly OU and OSU) are hurting in recruiting by not having Texas A&M on the schedule. They’ve taken a big hit on getting recruits from arguably the best metro area for high school talent in the country and likely want to add Houston for this reason.
Ignore what people say when they say that Houston joining the Big 12 would “dilute the Texas market.” The market is already getting diluted with A&M a member of the SEC. The Big 12 needs to stop the bleeding and can’t risk Houston getting invited to another Power 5 conference (…and there’s rumors that the Big 12 isn’t the only conference looking at Houston).
5. The administration at Texas has had a complete change in leadership
DeLoss Dodds is no longer the AD at Texas. Dodds was rumored to dislike UH for philosophical differences in the past but UT has a new AD now. Don’t assume the new UT administration feels the same way he did. Also, UT has a new president in Gregory Fenves and a new chancellor in Admiral William McRaven.
All three of these extremely powerful positions within the University of Texas have changed within the past two years. The thought process around expansion and realignment under this new administration might be different than the previous administration. We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.
6. There is a slim-to-none chance Texas joins another conference.
In spite I wrote in point #3 about Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State using the Pac 12 as a backup option, I still don’t believe it will happen. Texas is the alpha dog in the Big 12. Even though the other conferences want Texas, it’s highly unlikely Texas would leave the Big 12 to another conference where they’d have to share power. The SEC, Big Ten, Pac 12, and ACC are much stronger today than the Big 8 was when Texas joined in 1996 so Texas wouldn’t be able to come in and immediately take control of the conference. Remember how the Big 8 moved their offices from Kansas City to Dallas when it became the Big 12? Not likely to happen today in another conference.
7. Which schools are being considered for expansion?
Anything is possible at this point. Most likely it seems as if the Big 12 is looking to add UCF and either Houston or BYU.
One problem with BYU is the university is located far away from the rest of the conference. It gets expensive to fly all of the other sports (other than football and basketball) to far away places. Inviting Houston instead of BYU would help keep travel costs down. Houston also would be a much better fit culturally to the Big 12 and would have no trouble adjusting to the Big 12.
The Big 12 has recently formed an expansion committee led by Baylor’s President Ken Starr and West Virginia President Gordon Gee. There’s strong rumors that the Big Ten believes FOX will push UCF as their #1 priority in Big 12 expansion.
BYU has a strong fan base and tradition but Houston may win out due to location, culture, and being a cheaper travel partner. It seems like Cincinnati is more likely to go to the ACC at this point but the Big 12 is likely to be considering their application as well. Memphis, USF, Boise State, and Colorado State are all very unlikely to be given invitations.
8. What do the Big 12 players want?
Players in the current Big 12 conference were polled by ESPN to find out which schools they wanted to join the league. 88% of players polled said they support Big 12 expansion. The schools the players wanted to join the conference:
• Texas A&M: 22 percent
• BYU: 17 percent
• Houston: 11 percent
• Nebraska: 11 percent
Forgetting the Aggies and Cornhuskers whom the Big 12 players wanted to see for nostalgic reasons, it’s very interesting that the players have Houston and BYU in their top four.
Hopefully this post gets everyone up to speed with where the conference is at in the expansion process. A lot can change very rapidly and I’ll try to keep everyone update as I hear more news.
[Hat tip to my buddy @UH_P5 for pointing me to the ESPN poll article].