The Big 12 Conference made the best move it could make on Friday. It also made the ONLY move it could make on Friday.
The vote to invite BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF was expected. It was widely reported all week. It was necessary to support the viability of the league. Unless you wanted the Big 12 to die. We, at Heartland College Sports, certainly didn’t.
In less than two months the Big 12 went from a solid 10-team conference with a pair of nationally-renowned programs in Oklahoma and Texas to one fighting for its very survival.
The addition of these four schools will ensure the Big 12 survives. Of course, it will look a lot different. It won’t be as prestigious without the Sooners and Longhorns. It won’t get as much national ‘love.’ But, then again, how much ‘love’ did the league get outside of OU and Texas anyway?
When I started writing our site’s expansion pieces, oddly enough, the four schools that the Big 12 invited were the four schools I focused on first. My pieces on BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF focused on WHY these schools would be the right ones to pursue in expansion. While all four programs have their qualities, the focus was on markets, as in television markets.
The Big 12 has to negotiate a new TV deal in a few years, in a world where as much as 50 percent of its marketability was tied up in Texas and OU. The Big 12 can’t replicate that. No Power 5 program is going to come rescue them. But the conference has to find a way to come as close as they can to enhancing their negotiating leverage with ESPN, FOX or whichever network wants the TV deal.
Bringing in these four schools won’t change the departures of the Sooners and Longhorns. The TV contract will take a hit. But these are the best options available to the league.
TV Markets Rule the Day
Houston brings the nation’s No. 8 TV market. With TCU’s access to Dallas-Fort Worth, the league would have two Top 10 media markets.
UCF is the No. 17 media market at the moment, and the university boasts a student body of more than 70,000 students.
BYU is part of the Salt Lake City market (No. 30) and, as a football independent, has the easiest path to join the league (though their relationship with the West Coast Conference for its other sports must be addressed).
Cincinnati is a Top 40 media market, and I made the point that it’s on par with Kansas City and Austin. The Bearcats are the best Group of 5 football program in the country right now.
The Big 12 has to make the blatant media market play here, and that’s the right path. If you can’t offer an Oklahoma and Texas, you have to offer media markets. By adding four programs that provide access to four Top 40 TV markets, the Big 12 won’t lose AS much as it might have otherwise.
Oddly, the conference won’t lose as much when it comes to the College Football Playoff, either, if the game truly expands to a 12-team model with bids to the conference champions from the Top 6 conferences. In that scenario, the Big 12 should secure a bid just about every year.
The Big 12 will need to get more innovative with the television deal, too. The Big 12 plays just a few Thursday games these days. I believe that will change in a new TV deal, as the league will look for every opportunity to get eyeballs on TV sets on nights when college football isn’t normally on. The conference would be wise to emulate the ‘MACtion’ model and play games on odd nights in November. I’ve road-tripped for a ‘MACtion’ week. It’s just plain fun.
But that’s down the road. It will take some time for the new members to extricate themselves from their current entanglements. More than two years, unless something changes. And things could change. After all, two months ago we though the Big 12 was relatively stable.
Today, the Big 12 did what it had to do in order to ensure its future. It will be a different world, of course. The Big 12 may not be done making moves. Its current members may not be done making moves, either. But the Big 12 made the best move, and the only move, it could on Friday.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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