As we get further and further from the initial quake of Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC, it becomes more and more apparent that the aftershocks will likely leave the Big 12 intact in the near term and perhaps the long term.
I’ve already discussed reasons to save the Big 12 and reasons the conference is likely to stay together for now. Without going over much ground that’s already been covered, here is more about why the conference is likely to not only survive but thrive in the new landscape.
The Uninvited: Revenue and Los Angeles
First, the only thing that would kill the Big 12 is if more of its members left the conference for another. While there may be some chance that WVU gets invited to the ACC, there isn’t any indication that the Pac-12 or the Big 10 intend to add teams from the Irate 8.
I’ve already covered some of the reasons the Big 10 isn’t likely to add Kansas and Iowa State and why the Pac-12 isn’t likely to pluck some combination of Baylor, K-State, Oklahoma State, Tech, and TCU. Those reasons primarily have to do with money as it does not appear that any of the Irate 8 alone or in combination has the financial profile necessary to entice a move.
I’ve seen it mentioned that the only combination including the Irate 8 that might move the needle for the Big 10 would be Kansas along with a current Pac-12 member with a sizeable market, such as Colorado, but even that is unlikely to get the Big 10 to pull the trigger.
The Pac-12 isn’t likely to increase per-team revenue by inviting four members of the Irate 8, so the only enticement would be adding games in the Central Time Zone and expanding its recruiting footprint, particularly into Texas. However, such a move would only be of limited value given the smaller market shares of the current Texas teams: adding a bunch of Texas schools won’t give the Pac-12 Texas, just a relatively small piece compared to the SEC’s.
Moreover, a move by the Pac-12 to expand eastward would likely be blocked by Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah because added teams further east would hurt their presence in Los Angeles, which has tremendous financial and recruiting benefits. Currently, those four schools are in the same division as USC and UCLA, but an eastward expansion would almost assuredly reduce their presence in LA.
While the possibility that a move by the Big 10 or Pac-12 could happen and could include teams from the Irate 8 cannot be completely dismissed, it seems unlikely.
Big 12 Autonomy, Bowl Tie-ins, Name Recognition > AAC
Aside from the enormous near-term financial benefits of staying in the Big 12, the idea that the American Athletic Conference can pluck Irate 8 teams away from the Big 12 defies logic. ESPN and fans of the AAC and other conferences may try to argue that the AAC is more prestigious and competitive than the Big 12 minus Oklahoma and Texas, but that is an uninformed and emotional opinion.
The Big 12 is an A5 conference: it is one of five conferences (along with the ACC, Big 10, Pac-12, and SEC) that has autonomy from the NCAA to enact its own rules in some areas, particularly in providing financial compensation for student-athletes. Abandoning the Big 12 to join the AAC would mean leaving that privileged status behind.
Moreover, while the Big 12 and American currently have seven bowl tie-ins each, the Big 12’s tie-ins are far more prestigious. People will point out that these bowl tie-ins are only good through 2005, and while it is true that the Big 12’s bowl line-up will probably take a hit after 2025, there’s no reason it can’t maintain reasonably strong bowl tie-ins by adding new teams.
While ESPN would love you to believe that the AAC is more prestigious than the Irate 8 and more likely to attract major bowl tie-ins, that’s simply not the case. Every team in the Irate 8 has been nationally relevant and in national title contention late in the season at least once within the last 14 years – yes, even Kansas. Only Cincinnati and UCF from the American have reached such heights. Every team in the Big 12 has a recognizable brand and tradition on the Power 5 stage while AAC teams such as East Carolina, Tulane, and others are only known to their fans.
What college football fan doesn’t know Bill Snyder or the Air Raid Offense or Mike Gundy or Robert Griffin III or Gary Patterson or Matt Campbell? Who doesn’t know the Jayhawks? Who doesn’t know people in Morgantown like to burn sofas? Every team in the Big 12 has a public image that’s well-known to every college football fan. That cannot be said for the AAC.
With the Big 12’s A5 status, current TV deals, current bowl tie-ins, and name-brand recognition the Big 12 is far more likely to attract AAC teams than vice versa. And while the Big 12’s per-team revenue share is sure to decrease when the current contracts expire in 2025, it is very likely that Big 12 will still be able to demand a price that will constitute a significant revenue increase for current AAC teams.
That is, while the Irate 8 plus four-to-six new teams will be the low-man on the Power 5 totem pole, it will still be a power conference and within striking range of the Pac-12.
The New Big 12/14*
A 12-or-14-team Big 12 consisting of Baylor, BYU, Cincinnati, Colorado State and/or Houston and/or Memphis, Iowa State, Kansas, K-State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech, and UCF would be FAR superior to the AAC’s current line-up. Moreover, there would be no comparison between this version of the Big 12 and any conference among the Group of Five, and that along with the Big 12’s status as an A5 conference would qualify it as a Power Five conference.
Note: some people who have projected a new line-up for an expanded Big 12 with divisions seem to struggle with basic USA geography. The North and South divisions below are based the line that runs along the southern borders of Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, etc. (see image below table).
|Iowa State||Oklahoma State|
|Kansas State||Texas Tech|
What I Would Do Right Now
Given the possibility that West Virginia will depart for the ACC, I would immediately look to add at least one team to the conference, and that team would have to be BYU. Yes, an 11-team league is awkward, but this is just a step towards the final goal while adding stability to the league.
As HCS readers know, adding BYU would come at a price, most notably its refusal to play on Sundays and its stance on the LBGTQ+ community due to LDS Church doctrine, which will not play well with university presidents. However, the benefits of adding BYU would be enormous, and I believe an agreement honoring both freedom of religion and the civil rights of individual student athletes could be reached without much difficulty if the Big 12 university presidents are willing to do so. Such an agreement could be viewed as a step toward greater tolerance and inclusivity by BYU. After all, it’s not like Baylor’s stance on LBGTQ+ issues is much different than BYU’s.
Despite its problems, BYU offers a clear and immediate opportunity for the Big 12. BYU and its fans want in the Big 12, even without Oklahoma and Texas, and BYU would not face a buyout or any legal wrangling to join, so they can be added as soon as next season without any difficulty – even BYU telecast contracts have a clause allowing BYU to opt out if it joins a P5 conference. BYU also has a national following that will help the Big 12 increase its appeal to TV and streaming services, and that will only increase the Big 12’s sway over other expansion targets. Finally, BYU’s athletic budget of $74.1 million and its national clout make it the closest thing to a P5 school of all those that are realistically available.
It’s worth noting here that both the AAC and Mountain West have hefty buyouts, ranging from $5 million to $10 million, and the AAC requires 27 months’ notice before leaving. Adding just one team right now would help buoy the Big 12 as it waits OU, UT, and ESPN out, and BYU is not only the school closest to P5 standing among likely expansion candidates, it provides the quickest path to stability and growth.
With A5 status secured, and with over $1 Billion in TV revenue on the table between now and July 2025, plus prestigious bowl tie-ins through 2025, the Big 12 is not likely to dissolve any time soon. Moreover, a lack of opportunity to join other conferences and the advantages of staying together and expanding while remaining a power conference make it logical for most if not all of the Irate 8 to remain in the conference and begin the work of rebuilding the brand.
I realize that this is not what many fan bases do not want to hear, but barring something unforeseen, this appears to be the mostly likely outcome because it makes the most sense financially and strategically for all parties except ESPN and the SEC. To fans that are discouraged by this prognostication, I would offer this: An expanded Big 12 with some combination or all of the teams mentioned above would offer an exciting brand of football and the right balance of novelty and familiarity to garner national attention.
What could be more satisfying than watching the Big 12 not only survive but thrive without Oklahoma and Texas?