Cincinnati Bearcats

Five Thoughts On The Cincinnati Bearcats Joining the Big 12

NCAA Football: South Florida at Cincinnati

On July 1 the Cincinnati Bearcats will be official members of the Big 12 Conference after accepting the invitation nearly two years ago.

It’s been a long road back to this point for the Cougars, who just recently became the first football program from a non-autonomy conference (Power 5) to reach the College Football Playoff.

Here are five things to know about the Bearcats as their tenure in the Big 12 begins.

 

The History

Founded in 1819, the Bearcats started playing football in 1885 as an independent program. It joined the Ohio Athletic Conference (now a Division III conference) in 1910. Along the way, it has also been a member of the Buckeye Athletic Conference, the Mid-American Conference, the Missouri Valley Conference, Conference USA, the Big East, and the American Athletic. But it spent a considerable chunk of the 20th century — 1970-95 as an independent program. It’s won 16 league titles, but never one in the OAC.

While the football program has an all-time winning record, the Bearcat basketball team is the school’s most recognized program. A two-time NCAA champion (1961 and 1962) and the alma mater of the legendary Oscar Robertson — who played there from 1957-60 — the Bearcats are one of the 20 winningest basketball programs in the country. The program has been to the NCAA Tournament 33 times, with the majority of those berths coming under Bob Huggins, who just retired as West Virginia’s head coach.

The Sports

The Bearcats participate in seven men’s sports and nine women’s sports going into the 2023-24 season. The football program experienced the high of reaching the College Football Playoffs after an undefeated 2021 season under then-coach Luke Fickell (he is now at Wisconsin). The Bearcats have sent several coaches off to gigs at bigger schools, including Mark Dantonio (Michigan State), Brian Kelly (Notre Dame, then LSU), and Butch Jones (Tennessee then Arkansas State). Since 2002 the Bearcats have won eight conference titles in three different leagues.

The men’s basketball program hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2019 but reached the third round of the postseason NIT last season. The women’s basketball program hasn’t made an NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003.

 

While some of the other programs haven’t been as productive as football and men’s basketball, Cincinnati does have some historical athletic alums, including Sandy Koufax (baseball), Kenyon Martin (men’s basketball), Jason and Travis Kelce (football), Tony Trabert (tennis) and Mary Wineberg, who won a Gold medal in track and field in the 2008 Olympic Games.

The Rivalries

When it comes to basketball, the rival is Xavier. The pair play each other every year in the “Crosstown Shootout.” In football, realignment has stifled Cincinnati’s annual game with Louisville called the “Keg of Nails” game. The same could be true of Memphis, though they may continue to play in other sports.

The Coaches

Scott Satterfield is the head football coach and is entering his first season with the Bearcats. He took over for Fickell. He was previously at Louisville and Appalachian State and has a career record of 76-48. But he never won more than eight games in a season with the Cardinals.

Wes Miller is entering his third season as the men’s basketball coach and is 41-28 in two seasons. But he’s 226-163 as head coach (he was previously at UNC-Greensboro).

Katrina Merriweather, a four-time letter winner for the Bearcats, takes over as the women’s basketball coach after wrapping up a stint at Memphis. She’s won 151 games in seven seasons, including five at Wright State.

 

The Bearcats just hired Jordan Bischel as baseball coach. He was previously at Central Michigan, where he led the Chippewas to three NCAA Tournament berths in five seasons.

The Future

The Bearcats have stability in their major sports entering their first year in the Big 12. Like the other three new Big 12 members, they’re undergoing an infrastructure pivot. The Bearcats broke ground in May on its $134 million Indoor Practice Facility and Performance Center. The 180,000 square foot facility will include a full football indoor practice facility, performance center, and dining and nutrition facilities.

That, combined with the boost in television money in the new media deal — which will be more than three times what the Bearcats are getting now in the American — should allow it to be competitive in the major sports in the next season or two.

Matthew Postins can be found on Twitter @PostinsPostcard

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