The Big 12 conference will be fighting for its life in a matter of years (months?) when the two blueblood programs of the conference, Texas and Oklahoma, depart for the SEC.
It has left many speculating whether the conference will search for new members or just disband all together. The decision is one that is very heavily influenced by money, television deals, and overall value that a school can bring to the conference.
It may sound like a simple process, but in fact it is the opposite. The Big 12 realistically can only choose from Group of Five schools. No one will leave the SEC and the endless supply of cash. On top of that, the alliance of the Pac-12 (who said they are not adding anyone), ACC, and Big Ten have ruled out any other Power Five team.
However, that does not mean there are not quality universities out there to chose from. It’s just a matter of selling the sinking conference. I compiled a list of six schools the Big 12 should consider pursing, and of those six, it was reported by The Athletic that three of them are among the four leading contenders.
As of right now, the Big 12 is planning on attempting to preserve the conference after the departure of the Longhorns and Sooners. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has been adamant that the conference can stay together. Here is what he said at a recent statement:
“The eight ADs remain committed to furthering the Big 12 as one of the nation’s premier athletic conferences, and look forward to working with our presidents and chancellors to strengthen the league. Future exploration by the group will continue to center on options that best position the long-term strength of the Conference.”
The Athletic mentioned the timeframe of when all this could happen, as due to the Big 12 bylaws, members need to give 18 months notice before leaving the conference and must pay a $80 million fee. In order to join the SEC by 2023, Texas and Oklahoma have until the end of December.
The schools that are being considered have some hoops to jump through as well, but let’s take a look at the Big 12’s top choices to join the conference.
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The Cougars are the lone school in Texas to make the list and do have a prime location with a fairly decent sized stadium. The city of Houston has a population of over two million people, and according to the Nielsen DMA Rankings, a system that ranks television markets based off media consumption, Houston is home to the eighth best television market in the United States. This is a great market for the Big 12 to tap into even more.
Their athletic success has been solid, as the Cougars are still looking to go back to their 2015 form under Tom Herman when they went 13-1, but they have former West Virginia coach Dana Holgerson now and hope that he can return the program to success. The only issue that all AAC teams face is the fact that they need to provide 27 months notice in order to exit the conference, which would mean they need to do so very soon.
Next, a school out West
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The Cougars have the easiest situation to navigate at the moment due to the fact they are an independent program in football. That would bring up issues in other sports as the Cougars are members of the WCC for sports like basketball, but right now the Big 12 should not waver over that. BYU is the perfect fit for the Big 12, as they average nearly the same amount of viewership and have been experiencing a lot of recent success.
There had been reports prior to Thursday that BYU was the atop the list for the Big 12. BYU has been an extremely solid program already, and moving to the Big 12 could give them more access to players that would normally not consider attending their school. They have the least hoops to jump through in regards to joining and only offer a win-win scenario.
Next, tapping into the Ohio market
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The addition of Cincinnati would give the Big 12 access to the Ohio market, which has quite a few highly ranked markets with Cincinnati being ranked No. 36 and Columbus being ranked No. 33, both of which had moved up in the rankings compared to last year.
They would be a fantastic addition considering they are going on their second season in a row where they have playoff potential. Under Luke Fickell, the program has been thriving and is on its way to becoming a national power. Cincinnati is starting the season ranked No. 8 and would certainly help the Big 12 be a respectable Power Five conference. They also have had success in basketball, where from 2010-2020 they managed to have 20-win seasons every year. Like Houston, Cincinnati is also required to give the 27 month notice, but the Big 12 should certainly add them regardless.
Finally, the self-proclaimed national champions
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Just like BYU and Cincinnati, UCF is home to a top 35 market in the nation. They’re also home to some of the best talent in the country as well. Florida has been a hot bed of talent for what seems to be eternity, and the Big 12 having a pipeline to Florida could only help the conference increase talent throughout. There has already been reports by a Florida based reporter, Chris Torello, that the Big 12 has been trying to persuade UCF into joining the conference.
UCF has been a an extremely good program outside of this past season and are expected to have a very bright future with new coach Gus Malzahn. Since 2017, UCF is 41-8 with three top-25 finishes and have claimed a national title as well. At one point in our lives geography mattered, but now with super conferences and alliances that has little to no value anymore. Adding UCF among the other four schools won’t be the same as Texas and Oklahoma, but it can very well make the conference more well rounded.