Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.Mark Twain
The Big 12 Conference was all but left for dead twice in the past two years, (beginning with Nebraska’s and Colorado’s decision to leave for the Big Ten and (now) Pac-12 Conference in the summer of 2010), only to somehow revive itself and remain alive and kicking as a major collegiate athletic conference. The most recent near-death experience followed Texas A&M University’s decision
last summer to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference (SEC), followed by the University of Missouri. Nevertheless, when the dust settled, the “new” Big 12 survived and to many minds even improved its overall strength and “brand” as a BCS conference with the additions of TCU and the University of West Virginia.
The end result of the latest conference reshuffling is that the SEC now has 14 member schools; the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) will have 14 member schools beginning in 2014 (if not sooner); the Pacific-12 Conference has 12 member schools; the numerosity-challenged “Big Ten” has 12 member schools and “Big 12″ has 10 member schools; and the geographically-challenged “Big East” Conference needs a scorecard to keep track of future members schools in Florida, Tennessee, Texas, California, Idaho, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
But has conference realignment ended? Not likely. Predicting when or how realignment will take shape is far from certain, but when it comes to conference realignment, the only “sure thing” is that there is no sure thing.
With this in mind, this website proposes that the Big 12 Conference should expand by two schools: (1) Rice University in Houston, and (2) the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). This may seem provocative – but if so, that is the intent. When discussing potential expansion candidates, most look to a school’s athletic success in football and market share (“expanding the conference footprint”) to predict which schools are the “best” or most likely expansion candidates for the Big 12.
However, this proposal takes a decidedly different view. This is because for the Big 12 Conference, an expansion school’s market share and athletic success are not that important. As for market share, UT-Austin already generates more than $140 million in annual athletic revenues (more than any other school) and OU and Oklahoma State generate more than $80 million (and Kansas $70 million) – and this is before the reported first-tier rights deal with ESPN and FOX that will add another $2.6 billion to conference coffers over the next 13 years, one of the top media deals in college sports – so whether BYU, Louisville, Boise State or other schools marginally add market share is really not that important to the Big 12 schools. Similarly, the Big 12 already has a number of premier “brand” football programs in UT, OU, Oklahoma State, Kansas State – and (now) West Virginia and TCU – so another football “brand” is not that important to the Big 12 either.
On the other hand, in view of Texas A&M’s departure for the SEC, it’s now vitally important that the Big 12 maintains (or expands) its recruiting base. Recruiting quality student-athletes for all sports is the life-blood of any collegiate athletic conference. The ability to continue to recruit top-tier student-athletes, more than anything else, will ensure that the Big 12 Conference continues to thrive as a premier collegiate athletic conference. For this reason, at least for the present, the Big 12 doesn’t need to expand horizontally and be “a mile wide and an inch deep”(which is the ACC’s problem), but should expand vertically to ensure its stability and strengthen the unity of the conference. As will be seen below, when the “usual suspects” of expansion candidate schools are considered, excepting only Notre Dame, the two best expansion schools for the Big 12 Conference to become united from within are Rice and UTEP.
Still not convinced? Read through the website – then decide for yourself!