Friday, May 6, 2016

Where Should The Big 12 Expand?

The Big 12 is apparently looking at expanding to, uh, 12 teams.  Yes, the ten team league with a twelve team name is looking to expand.  Football is running this, per usual, but it is the fact that the league is worried about getting left out of the college football playoff.  So adding teams is going to be tough.

This isn't like the last few rounds of conference realignment.  Schools are kind of set in the major conferences and there isn't any likely big time candidates to move.  No Nebraska, Syracuse, Louisville, Maryland, Colorado, Missouri or Texas A&M that is willing to bolt.  No Big Ten or SEC school would leave their leagues and it wouldn't seem as if the Pac-12 is nervous about losing a member.  The Big 12 could send feelers to ACC schools Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech to see if there is any interest but that probably will be fruitless.  So the Big 12 must not only find solid football members but ones in smaller conferences.

So who could be the candidates to join the Big 12?  Here is my rankings:

BYU:  BYU is a football independent so they have no conference red tape (the WCC wouldn't get in the way of the other sports).  They have been a solid program that brings national recognition and a firm fanbase with them.  They've done well against Big 12 competition recently and could be competitive right away.  Seems like a slam dunk?  Well, BYU has their own network that could make it a bit weird for any further TV deals plus they don't play on Sundays which doesn't hurt football but could be problematic for other sports.  The biggie is that BYU would really expand the league west and make it a very, very large geographic blob.  West Virginia, who is already on the outskirts of the league wouldn't like to travel even farther for games.  Could WVU look to leave the league at the first shot if given the opportunity?  Maybe.  Honestly, there really isn't any Big 12 schools near BYU.

CINCINNATI:  The Bearcats got left during the last rounds of expansion.  Why?  Well, their facilities weren't very good.  They've made great strides with revamping their football stadium and the Big 12 could tug their arm about a new hoops facility.  They've been a more than capable football program and their basketball team is usually in the tournament hunt.  They are solid and are pretty vocal about wanting into the league.  Plus they would bridge that gap between West Virginia and the rest of the Big 12.  Is Cincy "big" enough?  Also, this is an urban school that has a limited fanbase that would be joining state schools.  They want this so bad.

BOISE STATE:  Boise State is a name and very competitive.  It would seem right on the field.  But they poise the same geographic problem as BYU.  Sure, they could join BYU as partners but that still puts the league into a third time zone.

CENTRAL FLORIDA:  A wildcard of sorts.  I mean, why would a league want to add a 0-12 football program to help it get into the football playoff?  Well, it is a huge school is fertile Florida.  While UCF isn't an elite program by any stretch, it certainly has the ability to turn into one.  Okay, maybe not into an elite program but at least one going to bowls on a regular basis.  However, that puts another far away school in the league that is based primarily in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.  Even West Virginia is far away.  This could be a hail mary.

UCONN:  The pros and cons of the Huskies to the Big 12 are far apart.  Pros?  They'd jump at joining.  Their hoops program would further the Big 12's already top notch basketball league.  I mean, Kansas and UConn in the same league?  They are also a state school which is attractive and the football program has had its moments.  Plus a Big 12 network would love to get into the New England/New York markets.  Cons?  It is Storrs, CT.  Do you think those southwestern schools would want to play a road game in Storrs in November?  While it is closer to West Virginia than most Big 12 schools, it isn't that close.  Plus, thinking UConn brings the New York market is like thinking that Rutgers brings in the New York market.

COLORADO STATE:  I love this option.  Again, this would mean the Big 12 would be looking west but Colorado State has quite the fan base and would bring back the Denver/Colorado market back to the league.  Like Boise State, Colorado State would pair up with BYU.

MEMPHIS:  Like, UCF, this is a large school.  The Tigers are a serviceable option who is not too far from current league members.  However, they just don't jump out to anyone. Doesn't really push the needle.

HOUSTON:  The Big 12 would only look at Houston if there were no other options.  That shouldn't be the case.  Houston would be the fifth Texas team in the league and that isn't good.  The other members of the league who are already weary of the Lone Star State would worry that those schools could form a voting block for league business.

SOUTH FLORIDA:  If UCF doesn't work, USF could do it.  But why?


To me, BYU and Cincinnati make the most sense.  There are a lot of contingencies with adding BYU,  but they are far and away the better program to add.  Other big time leagues have had to bring outer rim schools during expansion (ACC added Boston College; Big Ten added Rutgers) and you just got to make it work.  To appease West Virginia, I think Cincinnati with its corporate backing would get the second invite.

Here is where the second worst job of a Big 12 expansion comes in: How do you divide the divisions?  The Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 have gone to straight geographic divisions ... though they've colored outside the lines on that (SEC has Missouri in the East; Pac-12 split up California schools and made Utah and Colorado as South schools).  The ACC ditched any geography and created their own divisions.  So what would the Big 12 do?

Geography would be tough.  The North would be BYU, Cincinnati, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, and West Virginia while the South would be Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas and Texas Tech.  Look at that.  First off, the North would be at a disadvantage as it would extend from Utah to West Virginia while the South would be just Texas and Oklahoma.  Plus, the South would historically be a lot stronger than the North.  Breaking it up in an East/West format would do the same.  I'm also sure those North schools wouldn't like the fact that they'd be missing out on trips to Texas.

So would an ACC-style setup work?  Would putting Texas and Oklahoma in opposite leagues be in the league's best interest?  The Big Ten tried that with Ohio State and Michigan and it didn't work.  Same with the ACC trying to get that Florida State-Miami title tilt.  Could you have a divisional format like this:

A:  Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech
B:  BYU, Cincinnati, Iowa State, TCU, Texas, West Virginia

Maybe that is going ahead of ourselves.

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