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Does Cincinnati Makes Sense in a ‘New’ Big 12 Conference?

NCAA Football: Tulane at Cincinnati

So, for now, the eight remaining Big 12 members want to hold it together. But they probably need some help. What about the Cincinnati Bearcats?

When the Big 12 Conference explored expansion a few year ago, the Bearcats were one of the programs that the league considered. Now, as they try to plot a future, is it time to bring on the Bearcats?

Well, right now, the Big 12 would be catching the Bearcats on an upswing, in terms of football. The Bearcats went undefeated in the regular season, won the American Athletic Conference title and pushed Georgia in the Peach Bowl.

But the Bearcats are used to being changeable. When it comes to football, since 1910, the Bearcats have been members of the Ohio Athletic Conference (now Division III), the Buckeye Athletic Conference, the Mid-American Conference, the Missouri Valley Conference, Conference USA, the Big East and now the AAC. So, what’s one more league, if it leads to more TV money, right?


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Despite the Bearcats’ itinerant existence, they’ve managed to win 15 conference titles in football. Of course, the basketball program was quite attractive to the Big East, which is what helped the Bearcats join the Big East in 2004. And, through the 1990s and 2000s, current West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins built a beast in Cincinnati. The Bearcats would be a solid basketball fit for the Big 12.

Paying the Bills

Naturally, the Big 12, even without Texas and Oklahoma, would be more attractive than just the AAC. While the AAC has a 12-year TV deal with ESPN, that deal is for just $83.3 million per year, and that leads to a less than $8 million per year payout for each member. Obviously a reconfigured Big 12 would see a significant dip from its current TV deal, but a reconfigured Big 12 would still be able to command more than the AAC. The Big 12’s current deal is 12 years, $2.6 billion with ESPN. Big 12 teams currently get close to $40 million in revenue share, pre-pandemic.

The program’s solvency has to be considered, too. The Bearcats drove $21.1 million in football revenue in the Wall Street Journal’s 2018 College Football Value Rankings. In fiscal year 2020, the Bearcat athletic department spent $74 million, so they’re not afraid to invest in the program. But, a story in the News-Record noted that the Bearcat athletic program is operating at a deficit, and while the football program grosses $10 million, it spends $15 million. A larger TV contract would help with that.


Media Market

That’s where the Bearcats could be most helpful to the Big 12. Cincinnati is the No. 36 media market, according to Nielsen. That’s on par with Kansas City (No. 34), Austin (No. 38) and Oklahoma City (No. 44). It’s well ahead of Des Moines-Ames (No. 68), Waco-Temple-Bryan (No. 83) and Lubbock, Texas (No. 145). That, along with Cincinnati’s population of more than 300,000, is a helpful chip during TV negotiations.  

If the Big 12 decides to expand, the league will likely look to the AAC first. Cincinnati is well positioned, geographically and on paper, to help the Big 12 out, assuming the financials check out.

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.

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