Thursday, July 28, 2016

The best options for Big 12 expansion

There are several confounding factors facing the Big 12 as it seeks to expand and match the other Power 5 conferences with their TV networks and big money deals. There's the lack of great expansion options, the geographic limitations, the Longhorn network, and then basic politics.

I've decided to put together here what I think makes the most sense for the league and gives it the best chance of surviving in anything close to its current form.

First, you add Cincinnati and then Tulane (or Houston if you must) as full-time members of the conference. 

Why Cincinnati? Because Cincinnati has a chance to expand and grow in a big time football region (Ohio) which could significantly help Big 12 north schools like Iowa State and the Kansas schools who rely on out of state recruiting. As you'll see from some of the divisional options, adding more recruiting turf is important. The Bearcats aren't a great option but there's a chance they could become something if the Big 12 brand raised the stakes of their games and increased the interest of the local community and the alumni.

Remember, college football is all about serving as a vanity project for alumni and a local community, which leads to investment and sales and then easily exploited labor (football players) to fund the University system.

Why Tulane? Because they already have some investment in their football program, they are focused near New Orleans which has a lot of football fans and some of the most talent in the country (the southern Big 12 schools already regularly mine Louisiana for talent when they can), and they are a school of great academic standing.

Adding both Tulane and Cincinnati would also serve to troll LSU and tOSU which both are designed to benefit from being the only real football powers in football-obsessed states.

Houston could replace Tulane if absolutely necessary.

Next you add Boise State as a football-only school because you really want BYU and if you add both it adds up to 14 and creates cleaner conference alignment options. 

BYU has a semi-national audience, they have a recruiting base that will follow them to the Big 12 (Utah kids, Mormons, and Islanders) although it won't do much for the rest of the league, they have established tradition and communal/alumni buy-in, and they raise the quality of the football.

Boise State is a sheer "improves the football product" addition. They don't bring in strong TV markets (200k people in Boise, 1.5 mill in Idaho), they don't bring in any recruiting turf (if anything this will lead to them leeching more Texans), all they do is add an additional program that produces good football teams.

That's not really a strong addition for the purpose of creating good TV deals, because people watch college football out of regional/communal interest more than they do for the sheer product. That said, this makes the Big 12's expansion more interesting and more compelling in the short term and probably leads to stronger divisions and more compelling conference games and championship bouts for years to come. Boise State and BYU are strong bets to be consistently strong football teams. If you're going to subsidize programs from areas with weak demographics they might as well be teams that know how to play football and can pull their own weight in making a better product.

Now the tricky part about adding those four programs, you have the following division options:

This is a pretty strong option for the fact that you can keep all the rivals together (and likely create a new one between Boise State and BYU) and the northern champion in this instance is now much more likely to be strong team (albeit something of a spoiler) because you have BYU and Boise in there.

The problems include the fact that none of the northern teams will get to play in Texas much, which sucks for recruiting purposes. They may not play in Louisiana virtually ever (assuming the addition of Tulane rather than Houston) which also sucks. You're basically creating a particularly strong mid-major division to pit against the OU/TX-driven Big 12 south.

That's not quite the same as the original Big 12 north which included Colorado and Nebraska. It's something though. I doubt the Kansas schools are excited about this but then again, everyone knows y'all are basically freeloaders in this deal anyhow.

The final problem is just the time zone issues. This makes a great deal of sense for those Big 12 south teams but it sucks for the Big 12 north where schools are flying all over the country every weekend to play each other.

Here's another option, the "you wanted expansion Oklahoma so here you go" East/West plan:
There are a few benefits to this option. One is that you divide the two powers that drive the conference, Oklahoma and Texas, and you are much more sensitive to the time zone issues with this alignment.

I'd be curious to know what Oklahoma fans would think of this option. Positives include the fact that you can reasonably expect to rule this division with an iron fist as most of these programs simply aren't that strong. You'll still play Texas every year, which means you'll cycle through the rest of the Big 12 West very slowly, which has pros and cons.

Negatives include the fat that you are now only playing only one game in Texas every year (unless they establish more neutral site games like the Baylor-Tech deal in Dallas) and Texas is the lifeblood of your recruiting and TV market share. Oklahoma has survived not playing tons of Texas schools in the past and this would basically be a shoddy recreation of the Big 8 conference from back in the day.

Do they want to return to those times? Possibly, let me know Sooner folk.

This set up is fantastic for Boise State and BYU who now play in Texas regularly and don't have to journey to either the northern flyover locales or eastern time zone West Virginia very often. It doesn't make a ton of sense to reward those schools anymore than letting them in on the TV deals so it's hard to see that happening.

It's horrible for the schools in the northern division who would exist almost solely as patsies for Oklahoma to beat up and might struggle to recruit Texas in this new set-up.

Here's the other option, where you relegate the newcomers to the Eastern division rather than the Oklahoma schools:
Now you're asking the schools that claimed to deliver Texas TV markets (TCU and Houston) to do so without regularly playing against the more traditional Texas regional powers. This Big 12 Eastern division isn't really better than the conferences that these schools all left in order to join the Big 12.

That aside, I think the other Eastern programs might like this set up more than the one where they face OU as they'd play in Texas more and they'll win the division more than if they were matched up against Oklahoma. Bill Snyder would approve of this option.

The Western division in this scenario is a real powerhouse. I wouldn't rule out the possibility of BYU or Boise having Baylor-esque runs where they compete for the division crown for a few years here and there and then you still have OSU, Tech, and Baylor programs with some real tradition and investment. Of course, you also have King Kong and Godzilla still paired together. I think this division would be one of the toughest in all of college football, probably second only to the SEC West. Perhaps Texas and Oklahoma wouldn't be terribly excited about subsidizing such stiff competition.

So those are some options, and for the most part I think they are better than the options presented by going to a championship game with only 10 teams or trying to create divisions with only 10 teams. My preference is for the North/South division option but there are trade-offs to each.

As a writer that focuses heavily on the Big 12, having those four schools join the picture would make the league pretty interesting to observe and seeing Boise and BYU regularly compete with a Power 5 schedule would be fascinating.

Which option would you prefer?


  1. Cincy appears a given.
    Gives you a game in the OH/PA area regularly. Recruiting and TV markets in the region? It's a stretch unless quality of Cincy's product improves to the point that Ohio St is views them as a threat.

    BYU appears a given for football-only.
    Compared to other elite teams, top Big 12 teams are deficient on the OL and DL. Maybe annual games versus BYU can be used to garner more Pacific Island recruits. It's a stretch.

    Adding Houston is dumb. I lived in Houston five years and met maybe five Cougars fans during that time.

    Tulane could be much better IF they have a hard-money commitment to improving their product. It would require radical turn in the focus of a university that is above average academically and not rich (per student endowment is a fraction of Rice's). Do they have a benefactor with an interest in college football?

    Boise, football-only. Sure, fine.

    No divisions. Bill Connelly's idea is a good one

    Teams in the Big 12 (?14) would likely only need 2 permanent rivals anyway. All the Texas schools would want UT, but they'd get over it because they'd be playing at least twice in four years anyway if there were nine conference games
    Here's the math:
    36 conference games in four years MINUS eight with permanent rival EQUALS 28. Eleven teams in the other pool means you'd see teams 2.5 times per four year span.
    Conference championship game would be between teams with the best records.

    WV: Cincy, Tulane
    ISU: Cincy, K St

    Cincy: WV, ISU
    Tulane: WV, TCU

    Kansas: K St, Boise
    K St: Kansas, ISU

    TCU: Baylor, Tulane
    Baylor: TCU, Tech

    BYU: Boise, Ok St
    Boise: BYU, Kansas

    OU: UT, Ok St
    Ok St: OU, BYU

    UT: OU, Tech
    Tech: UT, Baylor

    1. "Adding Houston is dumb. I lived in Houston five years and met maybe five Cougars fans during that time."

      The hope would be to rope in the current student body and make the Cougar ticket a popular one in town. The problem is that it's in the third ward and isn't going to be a popular destination like the Moody center in Dallas for SMU.

      They'd really benefit from building a stadium elsewhere or playing in Reliant.

      I don't think I love the unbalanced, no division option. Also, it's kinda complicated. Divisions are fun, just find some that work.