The Big 12 conference has seen a big shakeup over the last couple of months. Arguably, no conference has been hit harder by realignment than the Big 12. Before the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns made their joint announcement that they’d be leaving the conference for the SEC, the Big 12 had already been robbed of four of their programs.
Amidst the last round of realignment, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Missouri left for the Pac-12, Big 10, and SEC. Two major brands in college football walked out the door and the Big 12 was left struggling for answers.
With just eight schools left, they decided expanding to 10 was the only move that made sense at the time and added TCU and West Virginia to their ranks. It was a move they had to make, but in light of who left, the Big 12 certainly took a net loss.
And here we are a decade later and the Big 12 is looking at the loss of their two premier programs, but are getting a bit more proactive at expansion to replace Oklahoma and Texas.
According to a report from The Athletic (subscription required), the Big 12 is looking at adding BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF to their ranks.
They’re moving swiftly to respond to the loss of OU and Texas and here are five thoughts on the latest talks of Big 12 expansion.
Expansion is the right decision
Creating a scheduling alliance with one of the other Power Five conferences alone wasn't going to be enough for the Big 12 to hold onto Power Five status. Eight schools wasn't going to be able to hold up against the rest of the nation's best football conferences, so expansion was the only thing to do. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and the universities' leadership had to find a way to make a move without treading water. The four schools that they're reportedly moving to add to the conference move the needle. They aren't Power Five programs, but they're in big-time markets that help the conference get more viewers on Saturdays. And, that's what it's all about.
The Four Best Choices
The addition of BYU, Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF make as much sense as any school in the country. Adding these four schools brings in three huge media markets as well as one of the biggest brands in college football. Oklahoma State and Texas Tech will now have games shown in Ohio and Florida, two of the biggest recruiting hotbeds in the country. TCU and Baylor will get to have a national audience with matchups against BYU. Houston provides the conference an important foothold in one of the largest media markets in the country. For all of the missteps, the Big 12 conference has undertaken in the last decade, this is a strong move to grow the conference's brand and marketability.
Enhances the Competitive Depth
From a competition standpoint, these four schools have had an impact on the national conversation at different points in the last decade. BYU always puts a strong product on the field and were contending for a spot in the New Year's Six bowls last season. We all remember the opening season loss in 2009 that left Sam Bradford injured. Zach Wilson was the number two overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. The Cougars have always been willing to step up in competition to give their team a boost in the national title conversation. Houston just a few years ago was knocking off Oklahoma during the Tom Herman days. Though things haven't gone well under Dana Holgerson, the Cougars have had one of the more competitive Group of Five teams in the country over the last two decades. From 2007 to 2018, Houston had just two losing seasons prior to Holgerson's arrival. Cincinnati was the darling of the Group of Five in 2020. Desmond Ridder is a Heisman contender in 2021 and a potential first round pick in the 2022 NFL draft. They look like they'll be a contender for the College Football Playoff this season if they can navigate the American Athletic Conference schedule unblemished. UCF was the hot name in the Group of Five CFP push during the final years of Scott Frost's tenure and during the Josh Heupel-era. Frost led them to a 13-0 record and Heupel had a 12 and 10 win season before departing for Tennessee. Now armed with Guz Malzahn, they bring a head coach with a legit Power Five resume. Malzahn helped lead the Auburn Tigers to the BCS National Championship game in 2013. Though the Tigers never reached the same level of success as they did that season, Auburn had just one season with fewer than seven wins and finished inside the AP top 25 five times in eight seasons. The move to add these four schools from the Group of Five will add really nice depth to a conference that was very underrated in that regard.
What about SMU?
The only other school that would have made sense for the Big 12 is Dallas-based Southern Methodist University. The Mustangs, like Houston, are in a big-time media market and already have an annual game with Fort Worth neighbor TCU. Perhaps they didn't want redundancy in the Dallas-Fort Worth media market. Perhaps they didn't want another school competing with the already difficult recruiting efforts in the Big 12. Who knows, but SMU makes a ton of sense as a Big 12 school. A former member of the Southwest Conference before the "death penalty" SMU was a powerhouse in the early part of the history of college football.
What does it Mean for OU and Texas?
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has been adamant in his desire to keep the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns around through the 2024 season when the current media rights agreement expires. And of course, he is. There's a lot of money at stake for the Big 12 and its members. That's why there's so much frustration from the remaining eight Big 12 schools. Their pocketbooks, and ultimately, the pocketbook of the commissioner gets a little lighter when OU and Texas depart for the SEC. For the Sooners and the Longhorns to make a move earlier than the 2025 season, there will have to be an agreement that allows the two schools to break their contracts. Ultimately, the two universities will have to cough up some cash to make it worth Bowslby and the Big 12's while to allow their two most profitable products leave for the SEC. Bowlsby and the Big 12 hold the contractual leverage and they know it. They can and will make it difficult for OU and Texas to leave. That's how they'll get paid. But that's how it will end, and likely in 2022. As the new schools get invited to the dance and a plan for the future of the Big 12 comes into view, negotiations will start up in earnest for OU and Texas to part ways with the Big 12.
Bonus: Adding Two Cougars
If the proposed expansion takes place and the Big 12 adds Houston and BYU, the conference will be in that weird place that the SEC is in where it has multiple schools with the same mascot. The SEC has three schools that are represented as "Tigers" in LSU, Auburn, and Missouri. They've got two schools whose mascot are the "Bulldogs." The Big 12 would then have two schools that are "Cougars" in BYU and Houston. Obviously, it's not that big of a deal, it just feels weird when talking about the inevitable matchup between the Cougars and the Cougars.
Another Bonus: Finally Back to 12
Branding's important, but it never made sense for the Big 12 conference to only have 10 teams. Sure, the diehard college football fan knew the difference between the Big 12 and the Big 10, but the casual fan was left wondering, "why?" The Pac-10 didn't want to confuse anyone, so they changed their name. Of course, it was easier for them to be the only "Pac." Before the Big 10 expanded again and went to 14, they were at 12 and the Big 12 was at 10. The Big 10 responded by changing their logo to the B1G, which removed the "10" from their marketing. It was smart response to the question, "why are you the Big 10 if you have 12 (now 14)?" The Big 12 always just left that answer hanging in the Oklahoma winds. But now, with this proposed expansion, all is right with the world.