The Big 12 Expansion

The Big 12 Conference is looking to expand. Actually, the Big 12 Conference is trying to live up to its name because at the moment the Big 12 Conference consists of only 10 teams. If they add two more, they will hit some sort of magical threshold set by the overseers of collegiate athletics and will be allowed to stage a Big 12 Conference Championship Football Game. Strip away every other motivation you may hear or read; that is the basis for this endeavor at its foundation.

Reportedly, the search began with 20 possible schools that might be invited to join and there is a perspective that needs to be placed on that original list of 20 schools. The Big 12 Conference is the scion of the Big 8 Conference which was spawned by the old Southwest Conference. The Southwest Conference was at one time a big deal; Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Arkansas and sometimes TCU were prominently displayed in the “Top Ten” in the country. I do not want to portray today’s Big 12 as something akin to the Sun Belt Conference or Conference-USA, but today’s Big 12 has lost a lot of the luster that was associated with its previous incarnations. So, when I saw the “original list” of 20 possible invitees, I wondered if any of the “conference historians” had chimed in.

Yesterday, reports began to emerge that the list had been cut from 20 to 13. Here are the 7 schools that supposedly will not be invited to the Big 12 party:

    Arkansas State
    Boise State
    East Carolina
    New Mexico
    Northern Illinois
    San Diego State

Meaning not a shred of disrespect to any of those schools or any folks associated with any of those schools, there is no “football royalty” in any of those bloodlines. If indeed the Big 12 Search Committee – or whatever it may call itself – spent more than an hour-and-a-half considering that entire list of 7 schools, then it has far too much time on its hands.

The 13 schools that remain on the list are:

    Air Force
    Colorado State
    South Florida

To me, the choice is pretty simple if that is the list. I would add BYU and Houston for these reasons:

    BYU has a consistently good football program that will add to the conference strength of schedule for the teams there. Moreover, it is geographically close to other Big 12 schools and it is not a school where scandals and probations from the NCAA abound.

    Houston is right in the heart of “Big 12 Country” and the school happens to be in a city of more than 2 million people – that is a big market for the conference to tap into.

Please notice that Temple and UConn are still on the list. I suspect – but do not know for sure – that they are there for the same reason that the Big 10 Conference added Maryland and Rutgers a couple of years ago. The thinking is that having “representation” there will make Big 12 football more interesting in the heavily populated Northeast market. I think that is searching for Fool’s Gold.

I have lived all of my life in the Northeast Megalopolis. One of the things that is clear to me as a denizen is that college football is just not that big a deal with the vast majority of the sports fans here. Picture the “football map” of 30 years ago where the Big 10 never got east of Ohio State/Michigan/Michigan State and the ACC never got north of Maryland. Think about those northeastern states of New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and all of New England. Ask yourself now:

    Where are the “big time football schools” where the teams are consistently good and the crowds are big and rabid?

Well, here is the list:

    Penn State

If you want to embellish a bit:

    Boston College fields good teams most of the time but never fields a great team. Let me just say that tickets for BC football are not “hot commodities” in the Boston area where tickets to the Red Sox and/or the Patriots set the standard for “hot commodities”.

    Syracuse used to be consistently good and has drawn some good crowds in the past but today Syracuse is far more of a basketball school than a football school and it has been that way for about 20 years.

Different parts of the country embrace different sports to a different degree. It is just the way things are. In the northeast, people care about baseball far more than do people in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. There is no value judgment in that statement; it is just a fact. If the Big 12 seeks to market its product in the northeast, it is going to be met with a lot of yawning and passive resistance; people there would not even care enough about it to engage in active resistance.

The Big 12 is in the business of marketing college football. They really need to do a market analysis not of their product – which of course they will see as pure and wonderful and virtually irresistible – but of their target audience. Let me give an example here:

    The American Vegan Society will put on a Gala Dinner with dancing and entertainment in Vineland, NJ later this month.

    It would make no sense at all for the National Pork Board to hand out coupons for ham steaks and other promotional materials at this event.

I am not saying that the Big 12 is considering something as abjectly stupid as my example here but it is close.

Finally, let me close with a comment about college football from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald. It relates to a part of the country where college football is indeed a really big deal:

“A four-star recruit announced his commitment to Florida State by pulling up in a Lamborghini adorned with Seminoles logos. Here’s the scary thing: What are the five-star recruits driving?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

4 thoughts on “The Big 12 Expansion”

  1. Jack,

    The University of Houston was in the SWC for football between 1976 to the breakup of the conference in the early 1990s (if memory serves). UH was a real thorn in the side of UT-Austin during the Bill Yeoman years and it is thought UT wanted to make sure UH would not follow to the Big 8 when the exodus began. UT is now saying publicly that UH is welcome (UT’s Chancellor and President have stated this publicly). Even the Governor and Lt. Governor have said it is time.

    However, some rival coaches have expressed discomfort since the Houston MSA is rich in recruits — and UH’s ascendancy will surely affect the competing schools for talent. Indeed, UH has been able to get some 5 star locals stay this past year, thanks in part to the Florida State game and Tom Herman.

    UH will help itself a lot if it beats Oklahoma this Saturday. They are 10 point underdogs in the last betting line I saw. But, if there was ever a coach who could slay the big dawgs, it is Tom Herman. The question is whether he will stay after this year or become a Bill Yeoman and place himself at UH long term. He will own the city if he does.

    UH has also made significant investments in sports facility expansion in the last few years. This has not been without controversy since this meant transferring funds from academic endeavors. And UH is still not a full blown AAU academic entity and many people feel it needs to reach that to be on par with places like UCLA, a legitimate AAU academic entity in a big city. Houston is growing quickly as a city. It will soon pass Chicago as the 3rd most populous city in the U.S. The city itself has a remarkable culture too, a blend of western dynamism (let’s make a deal!) and southern hospitality. Very unique indeed.

    One other thing. There is also a rumor that the SEC has approached UH so this might figure in the Big 12’s calculation.


    1. Jim:

      I know that the University of Houston was part of the old Southwest Conference – as was another Houston school, Rice. Coaches in the conference might not like Houston in the conference to compete with them for recruits, but this expansion is about money and coaches are lower on the pecking order than you may think when money is the topic.

      I discussed the implications of the Houston/Oklahoma game at some length in yesterday’s NCAA “Mythical Picks”.

      I had not heard the rumor that the SEC may have come calling for Houston. If the school got invites from both conferences, it would make for some interesting debate internally.

        1. Doug:

          Houston has a population of about 2.1 million. Miami has a population of about 450 thousand. By the way, the city of New Orleans population is below 400 thousand these days…

          In that part of the world, Houston is indeed “The Big Dog”…

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