The Big 12 is set to expand to – gasp! – 12 teams in near future. Depending on when Oklahoma and Texas exit the league for the SEC, the Big 12 might even have 14 teams for a few seasons. But perhaps the Big 12 should look to expand beyond 12 in the near future and make having 14 or even 16 teams a near-term goal for after the OU/UT exit.
The idea of the Big 12 having 12 teams is appealing for a number of reasons. Obviously, with a name like the Big 12, it only seems logical to have 12 teams. Moreover, 12 is a good number for a conference that allows for two six-team divisions with a reasonable frequency of cross-divisional games so that every team in the league plays every other more often than once in a blue moon.
After all, one of the big knocks on the 14-team SEC is that cross-divisional games take a long time to cycle through. Ideally, you’d like every four-year player to get a chance to face every team in the league at least twice during his tenure, but this doesn’t happen in the SEC.
That said, there are some good reasons the Big 12 should consider expanding even further in the near future.
PRIME REAL ESTATE
Expansion only makes sense if, like a savvy Monopoly player, the Big 12 can get its hands on some prime real estate. While the folks in other Power 5 conferences continue to make the mistake that the only real estate worth buying is blue-blooded Park Places like Oklahoma and Texas, the Big 12 has the opportunity to catch its competitors snoozing.
San Diego State and Boise State are ripe for the picking. The Pac-12 has looked down its nose so long at those two schools, it may feel like they don’t have enough value to justify the acquisition, but the Pac-12 has big egos to soothe and pat. This is no longer a problem for the Big 12.
While many Big 12 fans already see good reasons to invite Boise State, they seem less excited about adding SDSU. I wrote about the many reasons to invite San Diego State last September, and those reasons remain.
San Diego – the Paris of the West Coast and the most gorgeous city in the contiguous United States – is a huge market that loves football and is smack in the midst of outstanding high school talent. Moreover, the Aztecs know how to play football (and basketball) and are the rising star of the Mountain West Conference.
Another reason for advancing west to scoop-up San Diego State is that it positions the Big 12 for further western expansion. While adding SDSU and Boise would add a couple of natural geographic rivals for BYU while raising the league’s ceiling as a media product, it also would give the Big 12 solid footing for luring teams away from the Pac-12, specifically, Arizona and Arizona State.
Many Big 12 fans have speculated in the past about the possibility of adding the Arizona schools, but their remoteness from the rest of the league makes the move less appealing. The Arizona schools are used to recruiting southern California and used to having geographic rivalries.
With BYU, Boise, and San Diego State in the Big 12 fold, the Arizona schools would be more easily lured away from the Pac-12 and all the problems that go along with the league. Arizona and Arizona State would fill out the Big 12’s western states roster to create a league with games in every timezone with outposts in all of the nation’s biggest recruiting hotbeds.
STABILITY THROUGH EXPANSION
The Big 12 has tried being conservative in the past, and each time the strategy has blown up in its face. Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M, Missouri, and now Oklahoma and Texas have all packed their bags for conferences that were expansion-minded, conferences with a vision.
If we’ve learned anything from conference realignment, it’s that there is no security in playing it safe because fortune favors the bold.
If the Big 12 stands still at 12 members, it may soon find itself with new defections, and the pool of available teams in the next round of expansion may not include glittering gems like San Diego State. By taking the best candidates now, the Big 12 can bulwark itself against future defections while raising its volume for media partners and create a situation that could well draw members from the Pac-12 into the vision of the nation’s first coast-to-coast Power 5 conference.
The Big 12 rose from the ashes of Oklahoma and Texas’ decision to join the SEC, and the new forward-thinking approach of the league was a long-awaited breath of fresh air. The Big 12 now finds itself on a solid upward trajectory after spending years stuck in the retrograde concrete of over-exclusivity.
The age of the 16-team superconferences is upon us, and the Big 12 must position itself for the new era by expanding to 14 and preparing to get to 16 by swiping teams from the Pac-12.