A Deeper Look at Big 12 Expansion Candidates

Conference realignment brought turmoil to some of the biggest conferences in college sports starting back in 2010. Spanning until 2013, we saw the collapse of the Big East and near collapse of the Big 12. The PAC-10 became the PAC-12 with the addition of two teams. The Big 10 added four more teams, and the SEC added two.

After all the conference realignment ended in early 2013, it seemed like the end of the power conferences adding and dropping teams. However, the Big 12 has brought expansion talks back into the realm of college sports, which makes sense considering they are currently the smallest power five conference. From losing four teams, to near collapse, to adding two more teams, the Big 12 should at least look at the possibility of adding between two and four teams to the conference. The possibility of losing more teams and the entire conference collapsing are two reasons for Big 12 expansion.

Backstory to Big 12 Expansion

The Big 12 has been a conference in turmoil for more than six years now. The University of Colorado became the first school to jump ship. The Buffaloes joined the PAC-12 (PAC-10 at the time) on June 10, 2010. Issues over unity within the conference and revenue streaming, among many other, caused more teams to leave. Nebraska announced it would be leaving the Big 12 the day after Colorado announced their departure. Missouri and Texas A&M would declare their intentions to bolt for the SEC the following year. With the Big 12 down to eight teams, expansion was needed to save the conference. One of the best options at the time for expansion, TCU, was voted in on October 6, 2011. West Virginia joined the Big 12 three weeks later, bringing the Big 12 to the current number of 10 teams.

Big 12 Success for TCU and West Virginia

TCU and West Virginia began play in the Big 12 during the 2012 season. TCU experienced some growing pains in their first two years in the conference, but had a breakout season in 2014. The Horned Frogs were able to cap off a 12-1 season in 2014 with a 42-3 victory over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl.

West Virginia has only had one winning record in conference play since joining the Big 12. While TCU has had a very smooth transition into the Big 12, West Virginia has had a tougher time. TCU makes a lot of sense in the Big 12 geographically, and the strength of their athletic program helps too. West Virginia has the athletic program to compete in basketball and football in the Big 12, but geographically, they aren’t the best fit.

Spark of Big 12 Expansion Talks

TCU and Baylor getting snubbed from the College Football Playoff in the 2014 season sparked some Big 12 expansion talks that have continued throughout the last two years. Okalahoma University president David Boren has been one of the most outspoken individuals when it comes to these discussions. Boren and University of Texas president Gregory Fenves might have the biggest say out of anyone concerning who the Big 12 will add among conference presidents.

There have been multiple criteria discussed for possible expansion candidates, especially as to which criteria are most important. Football program strength would be the most obvious criteria, with overall athletic tradition, television markets, and academic reputation also playing a large part in choosing candidates. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reported that a decision on Big 12 expansion is likely to be made before the start of the 2016 season. Possible candidates have emerged from all over the country stretching from Boise State to the University of Central Florida.

Candidates for Expansion

One of the most important decisions in Big 12 expansion right now is the decision between adding two and four teams. According to Iowa State president Steven Leath, the Big 12 should look north for teams to add to the conference since the conference is already “Texas-heavy. Some of the more talked about candidates for expansion are BYU, Houston, Cincinnati, UConn, and Memphis. University of Texas president Gregory Fenves has endorsed, on Twitter, the addition of the University of Houston.

Houston and BYU were also favored among all expansion possibilities by Big 12 coaches, each school receiving five votes, in a poll conducted by ESPN. Geographically, Houston makes sense and so does BYU to some degree. Even though BYU is still 869 miles away from the closest current Big 12 school (Texas Tech). If the Big 12 were to expand to 12 or 14 teams, divisions would most likely be created.

So which schools would be the best fit if the conference decides to expand? Here are ten candidates that might be considered.

Top 10 Big 12 Candidates

  1. BYU

    According to BYU Athletics, the Cougars have won ten NCAA National Championships, which is an impressive pedigree[5]. They have a strong athletic tradition, especially in basketball and football. And BYU ranks in the top 70 at number 66 academically, according to US News and World Report[6].

  2. Houston

    The Cougars are looking to build on what has been a very impressive resume in football recently. They had a record of 13-1 with a victory against Florida State in the Peach Bowl in the 2015 season. Tom Herman has the Cougars football program on the rise.

  3. Cincinnati

    Rich tradition in basketball with two national championships, four Final Fours, and 30 NCAA Tournament appearances. The Bearcats also give West Virginia a geographical rival.

  4. Boise State

    The Broncos might have the most impressive football resume of all Big 12 expansion candidates. They have 12 ten win seasons since 2000, highlighted by two Fiesta Bowl victories against Oklahoma and TCU. Adding the Broncos would also open up a recruiting area new to the Big 12 in the North Central part of the United States. However, Boise is the 109th largest TV market in the country. That small of a TV market doesn’t appeal greatly to the Big 12.

  5. UCF

    High potential candidate that allows the Big 12 to tap into the Florida recruiting market and the Orlando TV market. Orlando is the biggest TV market in the United States without an NFL team, according to the Orlando Sentinal[7]. However, they are currently coming off a football season that saw them achieve a 0-12 record.

  6. Memphis

    The Tigers are an accomplished college basketball program. Memphis also posted a 9-4 record in the 2015 football season. They sent a first round draft pick at quarterback to the NFL in Paxton Lynch. This would also give the Big 12 access into the large Memphis TV market. Our Derek Helling previously looked at the FEDEX influence that might help Memphis’ cause.

  7. Colorado State

    The Rams would give BYU a geographical rival if BYU were added to the Big 12. They are also in the process of building a new on-campus stadium which will open for the 2017 season. According to a 12 page appeal to the Big 12 by Colorado State, there are more than 50,000 Big 12 alumni living in Colorado right now, which is 16 percent of all Big 12 alumni[8].

  8. UConn

    The Huskies would add to the already strong reputation of Big 12 basketball. UConn has one of the strongest basketball traditions of any school in the country with four men’s national championships and ten women’s national championships. Adding UConn would also let the Big 12 tap into the northeast market for recruiting and television, including the coveted New York City market.

  9. USF

    The Bulls, much like UCF, would let the Big 12 tap into the rich Florida recruiting market. USF is currently on the rise in football after a 9-4 2015 season. Adding South Florida would let the Big 12 into the 11th largest TV market, which is Tampa Bay[9]. If the Big 12 does decide to add UCF, USF’s odds of getting into the Big 12 should increase significantly.

  10. Utah State

    The Aggies are an interesting sleeper candidate for Big 12 expansion. The presumed favorite to expand, BYU, could use a close geographical rival. While they do not present the strongest case athletically, Utah State has been competitive in football recently. They have made it to five consecutive bowl games. They have also posted two seasons of at least ten wins in the last four years.