You knew it was going to happen. You knew that after the ACC announcement of a new network on the mother ship known as ESPN (to begin in 2019), you knew the final hammer was going to drop. After downplaying, or even poo-poo’ing, the issue at the Big 12 spring meetings, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and the league presidents made expansion a very hot topic during Tuesday’s final day of the league’s football media days in Dallas.
League administrators said commissioner Bowlsby will begin to hear out expansion candidates as soon as possible, and even have suggested that the league could have a 12 or 14member configuration by the time the Big 12 resumes its football championship game in the 2017 season. Of course, the huge driving force in this talk of expansion is the lure of additional TV revenues from the Big 12’s existing media partners (ESPN, Fox), along with a possible bump in revenue to the league and school coffers that expansion will give.
That means an expansion windfall for the league’s 10 existing members, coupled with a boost in revenues for teams currently in non-Power 5 leagues that seek to join the Big 12.
Oklahoma president David Boren, chairman of the league’s board of directors, outlined a set of criteria that will be used in vetting candidates that includes: athletics success, fan base, TV following, academic standards, integrity and shared values with existing Big 12 members.
Here is my top-10 ranking of possible candidates from the likely “free agents” interested in becoming Big 12 members:
Brigham Young: Among teams from non-Power 5 leagues, only BYU can point to a semi-recent national championship in football (1984). The school also has the largest fan base in its state (Utah) and draws well in the primary revenue sports. The primary drawback is a historic unwillingness to play Sunday games, which could be a deal-killer.
Cincinnati: The school has a huge enrollment, is located in a recruiting hotbed other than Texas (Ohio) and posted a 12-0 record in 2009 while narrowly missing a spot in the BCS national title game that season. The Bearcats, like BYU, have been nationally relevant in both football and men’s basketball in recent seasons.
Houston: The Cougars’ program is on an uptick after last year’s 13-1 finish under first-year coach Tom Herman. The same is true for the men’s basketball program under Kelvin Sampson. The primary question is whether Big 12 television partners view a need for another member in Texas with four other schools from the Lone Star State already in the fold.
Memphis: The football program is on the rise and the men’s basketball program has a long history of success. But the football program lacks top-notch facilities and has no recent history of sustained success.
Central Florida: An emerging force in college football circles despite last year’s disastrous 0-12 season. UCF defeated Baylor, the Big 12 champion, in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl behind NFL-bound quarterback Blake Bortles. The school has a huge enrollment and is located in Orlando, providing other members an “in” to Florida recruits.
South Florida: Based in Tampa, the school offers similar enticements to Central Florida from a recruiting standpoint. And the Bulls’ football program is on the rise after last year’s 8-5 finish.
Connecticut: A perpetual power in men’s and women’s basketball but typically struggle in football. The campus also is a long way from the heart of Big 12 country but it is not that far from West Virginia, which could use a travel partner for scheduling purposes.
Colorado State: Another football program on the uptick, with a notable fan base. The Rams also could be a travel partner for Brigham Young if there is a Rocky Mountain double play.
SMU: The Mustangs, under second-year football coach Chad Morris, are making strides toward rebuilding a football program that cratered in 2014 under former coach June Jones. But there is a long way to go, the men’s basketball program spent last season on NCAA probation and it’s hard to see more than one newcomer from Texas being part of the equation. Houston offers more as an expansion candidate if a school from the Lone Star State is added.
Boise State: A football power in recent seasons and another option to pair with BYU if westward expansion occurs.