It’s a shame that Oklahoma and Texas are leaving the Big 12 Conference. They have the best name-recognition among Big 12 schools, and have historically significant football programs.
Their move to the Southeastern Conference is a football-centric move. These two big-name schools want a piece of the biggest-name football conference. It makes sense in that regard. But it doesn’t make much sense from a competition standpoint. While the Big 12 is a power-five conference, and a top-three football conference, the SEC is certainly the toughest football competition in the country. Oklahoma and Texas are going to make an already-crowded gauntlet of football even more crowded. They’re also going to lessen their own chances of making the College Football Playoff.
But what’s done is done, and the Big 12 has moved on, adding four new schools to replace the two that are exiting. The additions will bring the member total to actually be twelve. Those four are Brigham Young University (BYU), the University of Central Florida (UCF), the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Houston.
BYU has a national following and is competitive in most Division-1 sports, something that was important in the Big 12’s decisions on who to add. UCF is an outlier geographically, but boasts a prime recruiting area that the Big 12 now has extra reason to be in, and sits in a large market. Cincinnati has one of the most consistent and competitive athletic programs in the country, especially in football. They also sit in the Heartland, opening up another recruiting area. Houston sits in one of the country’s largest markets and is also a Tier-I Research Institution, another decision factor for the Big 12.
Overall, according to the Big 12 statement on its new members, “the additions jump the Big 12 footprint from five states and 40.2 million people, to eight states with over 76.5 million total inhabitants.” So even though they lose two big-name football programs, they have actually expanded their reach. Additionally, all of the schools they added are good at more than just football. Crucially, BYU, Cincinnati, and Houston are all good at (men’s and women’s) basketball – the other major money-maker and audience-bringer for college sports.
One question is why did the Big 12 not expand further? Twelve is in the name, but only the Pac-12 has (or will have) that few teams among power-five conferences. The ACC, Big 10, and SEC all currently have 14 teams, with the SEC becoming 16 with Oklahoma and Texas. And the ACC really has 15 teams – Notre Dame is a full-time member in all sports except football and hockey, and they have a football alliance with the ACC.
Let’s look at the other top options that the Big 12 could have added (and still theoretically could).
#1 – the University of Memphis [public, Tennessee]
It’s pretty surprising that they didn’t add Memphis. Memphis is excellent in both football and basketball and would compete well in the conference. They have a solid enrollment and sit in an under-recruited area for the Big 12.
#2 – the University of Nevada [public, Nevada]
Another school with good enrollment, Nevada is good in football, and great in basketball. The Wolfpack are also a Research-I institution and would open up the mountain west for the conference.
#3 – Southern Methodist University (SMU) [private, Texas]
SMU is the first private school on this list, but private religious institutions are nothing new to the Big 12. The Mustangs are a little smaller than most Big 12 schools, but already have a rivalry with TCU and are excellent in a variety of sports. If it weren’t for the infamous Death Penalty, they would probably still be a football powerhouse too (and they’re still pretty good despite that). Joining the Big 12 could help them continue to recover.
#4 – the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) [public, Nevada]
A Research-I university, UNLV boasts a fairly large enrollment and, like Nevada, opens up the mountain west to the Big 12. Las Vegas is also a large market. They are good in both football and basketball, have historic brand recognition from basketball, and are excellent in other sports, especially golf. UNLV would be a solid addition to the Big 12.
#5 – San Diego State University (SDSU) [public, California]
SDSU has a large enrollment and makes this list because of the expansion opportunities for the Big 12. With the Aztecs, the conference would get a recruiting foothold in California and another large market audience.
#6 – Boise State University [public, Idaho]
Boise State has a decent enrollment, and while they are not great in most sports, they are consistently good in football and have national brand recognition thanks to their blue turf. They are another school that could also open up the mountain west to the Big 12.
#7 – the University of Tulsa [private, Oklahoma]
Finally, Tulsa sports a good football program, and is highly competitive in many other sports despite being one of the smallest Division-1 schools. Tulsa also makes sense geographically.
Really, any of those top four schools would have been excellent additions to the Big 12. Adding at least two more schools could be good for the conference, giving them more opportunities to be competitive in football, basketball, and other athletics. They still could add a couple of members, but it’s unlikely at this point, as four new members is already a lot to get used to.