It appears as though the Big 12’s expansion plans are coming into focus following the sudden departures of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC this summer. The Big 12’s preference is to expand by four teams with a specific focus on BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF, according to The Athletic’s Max Olson. Invitations to the four schools could come as early as this month, and they may be able to join the league before the scheduled departures of Texas and Oklahoma in 2025, according to Action Network’s Brett McMurphy.
“There’s no definitive date, but I think it’s better it happens in September, rather than later on,” a source told McMurphy. “Particularly with those four [teams].”
This is where things could get messy. Texas and Oklahoma have to give 18 months notice to the Big 12 that they are leaving if they choose to do so before 2025. Two years of revenue distribution would also go to the Big 12. Cincinnati, UCF and Houston would have to give 27 months notice to the American. However, as we have seen in the past, all buyouts are negotiable.
The goal of the four-team expansion would be to push the league back to its original 12-member alignment with the four aforementioned teams combining to fill a portion of the vacuum created when the league’s top two programs (Texas and Oklahoma) dropped the Big 12.
The Big 12 just wrapped up two days of meetings in which conference decision-makers focused on future membership.
“Following two days of consultation with the athletics directors of the continuing members of the Big 12 conference,” commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Wednesday. “The eight ADs remain committed to furthering the Big 12 as one of the nation’s premier athletic conferences, and look forward to working with our presidents and chancellors to strengthen the league. Future exploration by the group will continue to center on options that best position the long-term strength of the conference.”
What does it mean for the Big 12? Here are some potential upsides as it decides its future membership.
Creating presence in key TV markets
Adding the aforementioned four teams wouldn’t fill the entire void left by Texas and Oklahoma. However, adding UCF would give the Big 12 a presence in the major television market of Orlando. Cincinnati, meanwhile, would bring more of a Midwest footprint to pair with West Virginia. BYU would add in the Salt Lake City, Utah, market and an international fan base. Houston, of course, would help the Big 12 maintain a strong presence in Texas, even though the most prominent team in the Lone Star State is leaving and the second-most prominent (Texas A&M) departed in the last round of realignment.
Television markets may not be driving this round of realignment, but major cities with passionate fan bases do make a difference when it comes to deciding which teams to add. It’ll give the Big 12 a nice portfolio to sell to potential distributors — both traditional and over-the-top streaming.
Maintaining high levels of competition
The four programs being eyed by the Big 12 have achieved significant success as Group of Five members over the last decade. None of them have reached Oklahoma’s level in terms of College Football Playoff appearances, but they have been every bit as competitive as the Longhorns, if not more so.
BYU and Cincinnati are coming off of all-time great seasons. The Cougars finished 11-1 with a No. 11 final ranking in 2020 and produced the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft, quarterback Zach Wilson. The Bearcats enjoyed an undefeated AAC championship run and fell just short against Georgia in the Peach Bowl. Coach Luke Fickell is considered one of the top coaches in the country and will almost certainly be a top target by Power Five schools once the coaching silly season starts.
UCF has also enjoyed success as a college football juggernaut. The Knights had three straight seasons of double-digit wins from 2017-19, going undefeated in 2017 and winning 12 straight games as a follow-up in 2018. Before that, Houston was the class of the AAC, going 13-1 and beating Florida State in the Peach Bowl during the 2015-16 season.
That high level of play is important if and when the 12-team playoff comes into existence. The current agreement, after all, is for the top six conference champions to receive an auto bid.
Building in recruiting advantages
If the Big 12 is going to expand, it might as well help the conference as a whole when it comes to recruiting. Moving into cities like Houston, Orlando, Salt Lake City and Cincinnati would give each team in the conference a chance to play in front of a ton of high school players in talent-rich areas.
For example: Florida currently has 16 of the top 100 prospects in the Class of 2022, per the 247Sports Composite, while the state of Ohio boasts four and Utah has one. That’s 20 of the top 100 prospects in the new states that they are reportedly targeting in addition to the 15 that are already in the state of Texas.
Read More: Big 12 expansion: League focused on BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF with potential