The case to expand the Big 12 Conference by adding Rice University and Texas-El Paso (UTEP)


Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.

Captain Louis Renault, Casablanca (1942)

As earlier noted, unlike some other conferences, the Big 12 doesn’t need to expand horizontally and be “a mile wide and an inch deep”(the ACC’s problem), but should expand vertically to ensure its stability and strengthen the unity of the conference – and position itself for future expansion should it become desirable or necessary.

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 are Rice and UTEP. We can separate the other potential candidate schools into four categories: (1) Notre Dame, (2) schools that marginally increase market share but do not expand the conference recruiting base, (3) schools that increase market share and expand the conference recruiting base, and (4) other Texas schools.

Notre Dame

Short Answer: It takes two to tango


Notre Dame is the one school that enhances the overall Big 12 brand more than Rice and/or UTEP; it adds significant market share to the conference through its national brand; it expands the Big 12 recruiting base to the Midwest; and like Rice, it has a stellar academic reputation that would greatly enhance the Big 12 Conference. In short, Notre Dame would be a fantastic addition to the Big 12.

However, Notre Dame wants to remain independent, and even if circumstances required Notre Dame to join a conference, most believe Notre Dame would join either the Big Ten Conference or the ACC. While Notre Dame may perhaps be interested in some kind of non-conference playing agreement with the Big 12, or even potentially a shared media rights deal, full conference affiliation with the Big 12 does not appear to be feasible.

Schools that marginally increase market share but do not expand the recruiting base

West: BYU, Boise State, Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico
Others: Louisville, Tulane

Short Answer: Fool’s gold


These schools may have value for a conference like the Big East that needs to increase market share or add football “brands” to the conference – but the Big 12 doesn’t need either. As a result, adding any of these schools would do little or nothing for the Big 12 schools or enhance the overall conference “brand” because it would make the Big 12 “a mile wide and an inch deep” (the ACC’s problem).

To illustrate, let’s take what is perhaps the “best” of the bunch – BYU. It’s easy to see what the Big 12 Conference could do for BYU, as it would place BYU in a power BCS conference, allow it to firmly establish a recruiting presence in Texas and the Southwest, and position itself to be “in” if superconference realignment later takes place.

Fair enough. But what exactly does BYU do for the existing members of the Big 12 Conference? Little or nothing. BYU adds additional market share and a football “brand” – but those are things the Big 12 Conference doesn’t need. In addition, BYU provides virtually nothing in terms of expanding the Big 12 recruiting base – but BYU would no doubt happily recruit from the existing Big 12 recruiting base. The Big 12 does a lot for BYU – but BYU presently does little or nothing for the Big 12.

The same analysis is true for each of the other schools. Indeed, Louisville and Tulane – both often mentioned as Big 12 expansion candidates – are particularly poor choices because they are in the heart of SEC country, where the Big 12 Conference brand would clearly be viewed as secondary to the SEC.

In short, these schools do not enhance the brand of the Big 12 Conference – and in some cases diminish it.

Schools that increase market share and expand the recruiting base

South: Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, University of Miami
Others: Virginia Tech, Pitt

Short Answer: The ACC must implode; if so, still only add 4 schools


Unlike the “fool’s gold” schools discussed above, these schools add value to the Big 12 because they significantly increase market share and greatly expand the recruiting base. But for these schools to be expansion candidates in the first place, “radical” conference realignment has to take place and the ACC not survive as one of the four

That scenario is certainly possible – but as discussed above, not likely, as there are numerous structural and institutional impediments to such a scenario actually taking place (geography, conference cultures, existing media deals, and other political and/or legal constraints).

However, even if radical realignment took place, the Big 12 Conference would only want to expand by four schools, because the existing Big 12 member schools would not want to unduly shift the balance of schools from the Southwest and Midwest. Thus, even if the Big 12 wants to position itself for further expansion should the ACC implode, it should still presently expand by two schools from within, to ensure its stability and strengthen the unity of the conference and position itself for later expansion if desirable or necessary.

Other Texas schools:

SMU, University of Houston, University of North Texas, Texas – San Antonio, Texas State University

Short Answer: Lesson from Southwest Conference: don’t share markets


The final category of other potential expansion candidate schools for the Big 12 Conference are other Texas schools, in particular SMU, the University of Houston, the University of North Texas, and Texas – San Antonio. As for these schools, the argument may be fairly made that if the Big 12 should expand from within the Big 12 Conference, as has been argued here, then why not expand with these schools rather than Rice and UTEP?

The answer can be found in the lessons learned from the demise and dissolution of the former Southwest Conference (SWC). The SWC died for many reasons – most notably because it had eight schools in one state, which was incompatible with the emerging importance of media rights deals – and the conference had two member schools in both of its major media markets (Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston).

Deloss Dodds won’t let that happen again. TCU is already a Big 12 member in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. As noted earlier, Rice is a better choice for the Big 12 than the University of Houston in the Houston market, because Rice offers what the Big 12 needs, and UH offers what the Big 12 doesn’t need. Texas San-Antonio and Texas State University are D-I FBS football newbies – and in any case, San Antonio and San Marcos are too close and too important to the UT-Austin market.

Among the Texas schools, Rice and UTEP are the two best choices for Big 12 expansion.

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