Earlier this week, I said that the Big-12 conference needed to poach a few teams from other conferences if it wanted to remain one of the so-called Power 5 Conferences. I thought these four made sense:
- Boise State
Well, I got three out of four. Yesterday, the Big-12 “invited” four teams to join them and substituted Houston for Boise State. The addition of those four schools gives the conference 12 members and there are rumors that it might seek to expand beyond that. Before I get into my interpretation of why the Big-12 chose to do what it did, please allow me to point out a minor hypocrisy here.
- When the SEC poached Oklahoma and Texas from the Big-12, the conference commissioner squealed like a stuck pig and filed lawsuits against ESPN for “tampering” with the welfare of the Big-12 schools. However, today it is simply business when the Big-12 poaches 3 schools from the American Athletic Conference.
As usual, the Big-12 decision making is all about money. College football is the money maker for athletic departments and the big bucks come from television contracts. So, the Big-12 probably looked at the eight teams it still had under control and realized that it was going to have a dickens of a time securing its next national TV contract. The reasons are simple:
- None of the remaining 8 schools is in a large TV market on its own.
- None of the remaining 8 schools has a large “national following”.
TV networks hand out the big bucks in those media rights contracts to attract viewers; and so, the Big-12 needed to get hold of a lot more “TV market potential” to dangle in front of networks that might want to buy their game rights. I think it is that simple to explain why Houston was “invited” instead of Boise State.
- Houston: 8th largest TV market in the US with 2.6 million TV households
- Boise: 101st largest TV market in the US with 312 thousand TV households.
[Aside, to give you an idea of the smallness of that Boise TV market as compared to Houston, consider the size of Boise’s “neighbors” when it comes to TV market size. Boise is slightly smaller than Myrtle Beach, SC and slightly larger than Greenville, NC. However, Boise is a larger TV market than Lincoln, NE or Lubbock, TX.]
So, besides potential TV eyeballs for games, what might these four schools bring to the newly expanded Big-12?
- BYU: This is the big fish in the Big-12’s net. In addition to a large national following, BYU has a strong football tradition. Since 1974, BYU has had only 3 losing seasons and in that same time span it has had 17 seasons with double-digit wins. Moreover, with its religious affiliation, the school has a strong – and loyal – national following. The only downside that I see is geographic; BYU is not near any of the other Big-12 schools, and it is really distant from West Virginia and Cincy.
- Cincy: In recent years, Bearcats’ football has been at or near the top when it comes to schools outside the Power 5 conferences. As of this morning, one of the ranking services has them as the 10th best team in the country. The downside that I see here is sort of geographic; in terms of college football, Cincy is never going to be the dominant program in Ohio. So, how many of those eyeballs in that TV market are going to pay attention to Cincy instead of Ohio State? Cincy is a plus for the conference in basketball; it is always a relevant program in that sport.
- Houston: The Cougars have been successful in football recently and as noted above it is a large TV market. However, it is sitting in the middle of an SEC footprint with Texas A&M and Texas to its north/west and with LSU to its east. That TV market is very big, but it is going to be fragmented. Like Cincy, Houston will be a good addition to the Big-12 come basketball season.
- UCF: This is the wild-card addition in my mind. Like BYU, UCF is not close to any of its new conference-mates. However, UCF is a huge school – more than 60,000 students – meaning there is potential here for alums to spread out around the country and provide more “national following”. [Aside: After all, that number of graduates cannot all stay in Orlando and work for Disney.] The downside is that while the football program has been successful recently, there is no real history there. And, UCF football is sitting among those fans who follow Miami, Florida and/or Florida State passionately.
Looking at a big picture view of the newly constructed Big-12, the biggest problem that I see is that there are no rabid rivalry situations. Yes, Kansas and Kansas State is a rivalry — – but it is not USC/UCLA. And that is probably the biggest and longest-lived rivalry situation in the conference. Look at the other “Power 5 Conferences and you will always find a nice inventory of longstanding rivalry games to promote and televise.
The big loser in all of this is the American Athletic Conference. It lost arguably its three best football programs leaving Memphis and possibly Navy as its football standard bearers. Navy of course has great national following but not necessarily the potential for being a strong team year after year.
Finally, since much of today’s rant had to do with television, let me close with this view of television by the critic, Clive Barnes:
“Television is the first truly democratic culture – the first culture available to everybody and entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is what the people want.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………