The Big 12 Is Bringing Expansion Back To College Football

We all knew this day would come. The Big 12 couldn’t stay at ten forever. The ACC just announced their new TV deal moving forward with their own network and billions of dollars in revenue. That would leave the Big 12 on the outs looking at the new Power Four instead of the Power Five. So they smartly decided to do something about it.

The Big 12 has announced a unanimous decision by the Presidents to look at expansion. They stress this means they still might not expand, but that’s bogus. They will expand. They said two, maybe even four. Chances are better it is four. But who are they looking at? What direction will they go? They told schools to offer up some kind of proposal for the league to look at. I’m sure they will hear from the following folks:

BYU, Cincinatti, Uconn, Boise State, San Diego State, New Mexico, Colorado State, UNLV, Houston, Memphis, UCF, USF, Tulane and Northern Illinois. That’s a lot to choose from.

Every school brings something to the table of course. But every school has some kind of drawback as well. Otherwise they would have been added to the Big 12 already.

We can get a glimpse of their thinking in their most recent expansion. They lost Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri. They needed to add someone desperately. They settled on West Virginia and TCU. With West Virginia we can see that geography isn’t the primary concern here. If you have a decent enough football program, the travel is worth it. With TCU they showed that school size isn’t as important and neither is name recognition. Football is important. At least it was then.

This time around will be slightly different. Any team in the Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC or SEC is not on their list. No one would jump ship at this point. They can only look outside the other power conferences. So let’s look at some possible scenarios.

First, they make a football play. If they wanted to add the four best available football programs, they would invite BYU and Boise State as football-only members of the conference. They do this for two reasons. One, Boise State is nothing outside of football, academics included. The Big 12 wants nothing to do with them outside of football. BYU won’t play on Sundays which affects the non-football sports. But they are the two best available football programs hands down. So to get them they add them in football only. The other two schools would join as full members, and they would be Houston and Cincinnati. In all fairness, Cincy and Memphis are probably on equal football footing currently. You could swap one for the other and it could be just as likely.

Now let’s see if the focus was on basketball. That changes things. The four best available basketball programs that would join are Uconn, Memphis, Cincy and BYU. You could make the case for San Diego State, New Mexico or UNLV to be on par with BYU, but if basketball is equal, football would be the tie-breaker which would help the Cougars.

Now let’s assume they are only going for school size. The four biggest schools would be UCF, USF, Houston and Cincinnati.

Next up let’s look at media market size. The four largest media markets available are Houston, UCF, Cincinnati and Memphis.

I’m seeing a trend here. A few schools really rise to the top. Cincinnati, Memphis, Houston and BYU are the four most well rounded targets. Do they each have drawbacks? Sure. Cincy isn’t all that strong athletically. Memphis isn’t all that strong academically. Houston is in Texas and the other Texas schools might not want them. BYU is far away and won’t play Sundays. But as far as upside versus drawbacks, these four schools have it.

UCF is the big question mark for me. Athletically they are not strong. Academically they are not that strong. But they are the third largest school in the country by enrollment and are in a huge media market. That’s attractive. Ultimately I leave them off the list. Let’s be honest, everyone in the state of Florida is a fan of Florida or Florida State. They own it. UCF doesn’t compete with them.

That leads me to my prediction. Here are the possible scenarios the Big 12 will go with and the most likely teams to be added in each.

1. Two football only members

This would be BYU and Boise State. They have proximity and a natural rivalry. They have strong football programs. BYU is already independent and can easily make the transition. Boise State would have to work some things out but they would land somewhere. I don’t see this scenario being very likely.

2. Two full members

If the Big 12 only expands by two but makes them full members, I would expect those two to be Memphis and Cincinnati. This helps poor West Virginia out on their island a little bit and adds two schools decent at everything. Probably not likely they end at two though.

3. Two full members and two football only members

Well, you can figure this out easily enough. If the Big 12 goes this route, expect BYU and Boise State to come on board as football only members and Cincy and Memphis to come on board as full members. In my opinion this one of the most likely directions the league will go as it balances out football, other sports, academics and geography.

4. Four full members

The first two members would obviously be Cincy and Memphis. The other two would be tricky. I think ultimately if they go this route that they will invite BYU as a full members. Scheduling issues can be resolved pretty easily. Boise State isn’t an option here though, not as a full member. So who gets the fourth spot? I would have to assume Houston for one big reason. They are going to be good in football. They are committed. They are a huge market. They are in Texas. While that might not look super attractive to the Big 12 who essentially owns Texas, that looks VERY attractive to the Pac-12, SEC, ACC and Big Ten. There is only one bigger drawback for the Big 12 than adding Houston, and that is one of the other power conferences adding Houston. They will lock them up. This is the most likely route I think.

Ok, since the last two scenarios are most likely, how does that affect college football? First let’s assume BYU, Boise State, Cincy and Memphis are the football teams added to the conference. This would make 14 teams, or two divisions of 7 teams each. The schedule would mean you play the other 6 in your division annually. Of the 7 in the other division you would have 1 permanent rival you play annually. The other 6 you would play 2 at a time each year, one at home, one on the road. Next year it alternates between the road and home team. Following year it is two different teams from the other division. Every 6 years you play everyone in the conference at home and on the road.

In this scenario, I would make the divisions look almost like a zipper. In the west you have BYU and Boise State. In the east you have West Virginia, Cincy and Memphis. The rest of the teams are basically in a line straight down the middle of the country. So you divide them up and try to balance the conferences. Here’s how I would do it. In parenthesis would be the cross division rival.

Boise State (Texas Tech)
BYU (Memphis)
Kansas (Kansas State)
Oklahoma (Oklahoma State)
Texas (West Virginia)
Iowa State (Cincy)
Baylor (TCU)

West Virginia (Texas)
Memphis (BYU)
Cincy (Iowa State)
Texas Tech (Boise State)
Kansas State (Kansas)
Oklahoma State (Oklahoma)
TCU (Baylor)

Just pull out Boise State and plug in Houston if the scenario changes. But that’s what I see being the most likely result of expansion this go around.

How will this trickle down though? The American would be losing Cincy and Memphis, maybe Houston to boot. Maybe they convince Army to join. Either way they cease to be meaningful in any way. If Boise State moves football out of the MWC then they become pretty irrelevant as well. Really the only loser in this round of expansion is the AAC. They might not survive if they lose three members. Everything else would carry on as normal, except that the Big 12 would be a decent league once again.

Currently, Texas Tech and Iowa State have been subpar. Kansas is Kansas. Baylor is going to tank back to the bottom again. West Virginia and Kansas State will be solid programs. The Oklahoma schools will still be top tier in the league. TCU will remain up there as well, and hopefully they can get Texas back to the top. If so, adding more schools to that mid-tier of solid programs would be very helpful for the conference. Plus who wouldn’t want to see BYU and Memphis continue to play each other every year in the battle of cheap shots?

The Big 12 has a lot to gain from this expansion, so look for them to follow exactly as I’ve outlined here because everyone knows you turn to College Football Cafeteria when you need to know what’s up in college football. The Big 12 commissioner is no exception.