The Big 12 is on its own now.
That’s the message that has been sent from the other Power 5 conferences.
So, what now? It’s on the Big 12 to remain relevant in the eyes of the College Football Playoff committee in the future. Perhaps that won’t be with a Power 5 label, but that does not mean the Big 12 can’t stay in the mix for CFP berths as long as at least six automatic berths stay as part of the proposal.
How does the Big 12 do that? Easy answer. ESPN reports the conference has formed a four-person committee to discuss expansion.
Have confirmed from multiple sources there is a four-person subcommittee in the Big 12 meeting today to explore expansion.
BYU has emerged as one of the leading options, according to The Athletic. If the Big 12 does decide to expand from what will be eight teams once the Sooners and Longhorns leave, then it’s going to resemble the beauty pageant the last time the conference considered adding teams in 2016.
BYU, Cincinnati and Houston were the leading candidates then. How would the Big 12 feel about those schools now?
Potential revenue and television numbers will be the leading factors, but the Big 12 also must weigh size and success when making those moves. Consider that among the eight schools remaining in the Big 12, Oklahoma State is the only school with a winning percentage higher than .700 since 2011 and Iowa State has the largest stadium capacity at 61,500.
Here are the remaining eight Big 12 schools sorted by stadium size (winning percentage over last 10 seasons):
There is not one stadium larger than 65,000 in the Big 12 now, and none of the remaining schools have appeared in the College Football Playoff. Can the conference add more teams to enhance the competition?
Now look at the potential candidates who were in that beauty pageant last time sorted by the same metrics:
Knowing those numbers, BYU offers the best combination of size and success. The Cougars have a television network, the largest stadium and a winning percentage of .628 against an independent schedule. The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel outlined all the reasons why BYU is a no-brainer for the conference if they take the expansion route. BYU is a private school affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the school’s honor code has been scrutinized, especially for its views on LGBTQ students.
That would need to be addressed, because from a football standpoint BYU makes the most sense in the current landscape.
Who else would make a good addition? The problem is the rest of the candidates don’t check as many boxes.
Boise State is the most-successful program on the board in the last 10 years. The Broncos were in the national championship hunt under Chris Petersen in the Bowl Championship Series era, and they are an every-year contender in the Mountain West Conference. The stadium is small, however, and this is a hyper-regional add in the Mountain time zone. Still, Boise State has done everything TCU did before becoming a Power 5 school
Houston, Rice and SMU would be the best regional fits. Those three schools stuck with the old Southwest Conference to the end in 1996, but none have been able to graduate to Power 5 status. Rice has the biggest stadium of the three, and Houston and Rice are situated in large Texas markets.
UCF and Cincinnati have pushed to the fringe of the College Football Playoff conversation in recent seasons. Both programs have been stepping stones for Power 5 coaches, but they have been stumping to be in the Power 5 for years. Adding the Bearcats gives West Virginia a natural rival, and UCF opens the Florida market. It still feels like the same as last time, but these are the top two programs in the American Athletic Conference right now. Are they big enough for the Big 12?
Memphis would be the other school worth considering from the AAC. The Tigers play in the Liberty Bowl, and they have enjoyed steady success in the CFP era under Justin Fuente and now Ryan Silverfield. Memphis is still considered a basketball-first school, especially with Penny Hardaway, but there has been enthusiam around the football program when things are going right.
That is the terrain Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby must navigate if the conference wants to stay relevant in the long term. The Big 12 could entertain a merger with the AAC, but at that point those eight schools would be devalued on some level. Why not elevate others instead?
The most-pragmatic move? Lock up BYU, take the risk with Boise State and work through another beauty pageant with the other six schools. That would get the conference back to 12, and it would at minimum be the bridge between the Power 4 and Group of 5 conferences. If the CFP does expand, then the champion of the Big 12 would at least be a playoff regular.
It’s not the worst idea because it’s the best case for survival.
That’s what you have to do when you’re on your own.