Just about every sports media source and every sports fan with a twitter account, is talking about the potential for Big 12 expansion. Ok, not everyone, just the fans in the Big 12 and the fans of the G5 schools hoping for that elusive P5 invite are talking about it. However, if we learned anything from the last round of Big 12 expansion, nothing is predictable.
When a conference expands, the decision is made by the school presidents, with a little input from the athletic director. School presidents value academics, politics, and reputation more than athletics. We learned from the last round that the Big 12 most likely weighs their decision, based on athletics, more than anything else. This explains why West Virginia who has been pretty solid as a football program the past decade and TCU who has been a football powerhouse the past decade, much to the surprise of most sports journalists. However, looking at the situation from a purely athletic director mindset, it isn€™t too surprising.
With recent reports that ESPN is losing money on its college deals, and people starting to cut the cord, in lieu of alternative broadcasting devices, I am not sure you can take into account subscriber- base as a predictor of revenue anymore. The past few deals have used this model and the networks are most likely losing money. When the next deals are negotiated,they won€™t be nearly as generous. Or a different model will be used. It could be something as simple as a PPV model or an online streaming model. In either of these models, population base won€™t be as important. You can bet that the networks which are losing money are going to consider these options before the next round of negotiations and the analysts who have been hired are considering this possibility also.
This round of expansion will be handled differently but I still think the Big 12€™s decision will be largely based on athletic factors, with little consideration given to religious, academic, political or reputation factors. Even then, the most likely candidate will be the biggest loser. Recent Big 12 meetings have indeed confirmed that consultants have been hired to collect data to help Big 12 presidents with their final decision. I don€™t think it is a question if the Big 12 will expand; it is a question of who will be invited. For a handful of several schools, the anticipation is increasing. No matter what most sources say, I think only one of those is guaranteed. Let€™s take a look at the 7 candidates who are thrown around the most, from least likely to the most likely.
The only people that consider Boise to be a real option live in Idaho. The Bronco€™s are known for two things, exciting football and trademarked- blue football field. Only one of those would be a consideration for Big 12 inclusion. Boise doesn€™t bring any other positive athletic factors into the equation. They would increase the strength of the football profile of the conference but there are no guarantees that Boise would continue their football legacy in the Big 12. Making the decision on a school with little football history, even though it€™s impressive, and no other athletic successes make Boise the biggest gamble available.
Pros: Great Football
Cons: small market, weak in other sports, short football legacy, travel distance.
Houston would be much higher on this list if it weren€™t in Texas. Houston is a huge market but I am not sure that the University of Houston delivers something that a strong Texas wouldn€™t. Even though East Texas has been more pro A & M than UT, I don€™t think Houston wins most of those fans and eyeballs back. Houston will spend the money to play with the big boys but with 4 Texas schools already in, I doubt UH gets the nod.
Pros: Good Football, good basketball, huge market, close location
Cons: Won€™t deliver the market they are located in. Most schools, in the Big 12, won€™t want another Texas school in the fold.
UConn has made some noise lately and has sparked some rumors. I had to debate the merits of this one and actually think this is pretty unlikely. This would be a market move to get in front of as many TV sets as possible. However, the reasons I mention above, about changing the way people watch sports in the future, I am not sure this will have much impact. UConn football is far behind its quality of basketball, but basketball doesn€™t keep athletic departments in the black. I don€™t think with a new revenue model that UConn will bring new money into the league.
Pros: huge market, good basketball
Cons: bad location, bad football
University of Central Florida has been pretty stellar in the past. It has the largest student body and is located in a large market. UCF is a very attractive option if the Big 12 really wants to move into the Florida market. UCF brings only a football presence to the Big 12 and doesn€™t enhance the overall sports profile of the league. The travel distance is a little bit farther from the other Big 12 schools which makes it a less attractive option when compared to the other options. Getting into the Florida market is great, but having to compete with 3 major Florida colleges and the SEC in the area means victories will be minimal. It probably won€™t warrant an invitation to UCF. If the league decides to go to 14 teams I would bet UCF and USF are 13 and 14.
Pros: It€™s in Florida. Usually good football, last year could have been a fluke or the new standard. Large student body and large turnout.
Cons- compete for attention with the other Florida schools and the SEC. No history and doesn€™t add prestige to the conference.
Hands down, BYU is probably the most deserving. They were the most deserving in the last round of expansion and they were the most deserving school left out when the BCS was formed in the 1990€™s. Academically BYU is better than most of the schools currently in the the Big 12 and their stadium would be in the top third. BYU is good in all sports. They travel well and have a national following. They bring a Heisman Winner and a National Championship to the accomplishments of the Big 12. BYU has been pretty silent the past few years but has let Texas know ,twice, who is boss and beat Oklahoma once in the past couple years. I am not sure that Texas would vote for BYU, at least, not until Taysom Hill is gone.
Pros: Rich football history, great in all sports, travel well, national fan base, 11 teams would love to see BYU play Texas yearly.
Cons: Too far to the west, reputation of being hard to work with (doesn€™t mean it€™s true, but perception does become reality)
I think Memphis will be second to be invited. I don€™t know why I consider to rate this high. I personally would like to see Memphis lower than Boise on this list, but it makes sense. They are in a less competitive SEC area and in a large market. They are a natural- fit for the expanded footprint of the Big 12. The past few seasons Memphis has proven they are not a slouch when it comes to football, and their basketball can hold its own. It doesn€™t bring the history that BYU would, but it has proven to be a better team on the field in its most recent head to head match -up. The Big-12 wants to improve their football image now and Memphis, like TCU and West Virginia, is making more waves.
Pros: Football is showing promise, basketball is solid, and a great geographical fit with West Virginia
Cons: Not a huge brand in football
Cincinnati is most likely already in. They have already been a solid performer in a BCS conference before the collapse of the Big East, and they create a natural bridge to West Virginia. Combined with a Memphis addition, they make a great little triangle in the east with Memphis and West Virginia. Cincinnati has already proven they can compete in a power conference before the Big East collapsed. The Big 12 already whiffed on not taking Louisville. Cincinnati, which has the same recruiting grounds as Louisville and with a Big 12 affiliation, could surpass Louisville in a few years.
Pro€™s-: A lot of potential, good record with football and basketball, great location, fits well with Memphis and West Virginia.
Con€™s: Not the largest fan base or a big brand name.
In my opinion, I think that it will be Memphis and Cincinnati. The most deserving schools should are BYU and Cincinnati. BYU has always been the most deserving but has been ignored in the last round of expansion by both the Big 12 and the Pac and I think that trend continues. If the Big 12 decides to add football only members, then this list could go right out the window and you could add BYU and Boise. The Big 12 probably wants to keep expansion to the east, which would means it would be Memphis and Cincinnati. What I would do if I was the Big 12, is grab only one, BYU. I would establish a conference network before the ACC, and then use that leverage to poach, FSU, Miami and Clemson.