BIG 12 TO ADD FOUR SCHOOLS
The Big 12 has received applications from four schools to be admitted as members of the conference. Per multiple reports, the conference is going to announce Friday, September 10, 2021, that they are accepting applications to admit Cincinnati, BYU, UCF and Houston as members of the athletic conference. Cincinnati, UCF and Houston are expected to be added as full members to include all sports while BYU has been reported to be added for football only. The additions of these four schools are in response to the conference’s flagship schools, Oklahoma and Texas, announcing their intention of leaving the conference to join the Southeastern Conference. The media rights deal that each Big 12 school has signed runs through the 2025 season. If Oklahoma and Texas wish to leave before then they will have to pay a buyout to the conference, rumored to be between $75M-$80M each. By adding these four schools, the Big 12 will have 14 teams until Oklahoma and Texas leave, whenever that will be. Houston, Cincinnati and UCF all are part of the American Athletic Conference. The AAC has a contract that requires any school who petitions to leave must give a 27-month notice and pay a $10M fee. However, my thought is that with the exit fee being so low these three schools can potentially pay a higher fee to get into the Big 12 sooner. If the 27-month notice plays out, the Big 12 would not get these three schools to start football until the 2024 season. BYU, on the other hand, does not belong to a conference and can join as early as next season.
Adding the Houston Cougars gives the Big 12 one of the largest populated markets in the country. While there is a large amount of Texas Longhorns fans in Houston I think the Cougars moving to the Big 12 will keep some of the local high school players home instead of jumping to some of the other Texas schools in the Power 5. Houston is coached by former WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen who runs his version of the Air Raid Offense, a popular offensive system run by a number of the high schools throughout Texas. The Cougars have also been a successful football program over the past decade, seeing their previous coaches all leave for higher profile Power 5 jobs. Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M) and Tom Herman (Texas) both left Houston after the Cougars had highly successful seasons. Under Holgorsen, Houston can put points on the board and in the Big 12 getting lots of points is a key to success.
Getting the Cincinnati Bearcats adds the Ohio market to the Big 12. While this round of Conference realignment is not heavily television related, it will still add to the Conference’s footprint of potential viewers. And with Cincinnati being so close to the border there may be a ripple effect of viewers into Kentucky as well. The fertile recruiting ground of Ohio is another win for gaining Cincinnati. While Ohio State usually has the pick of the litter when it comes to Ohio recruits it can’t hurt nearby schools like Iowa State or WVU to pick up some of the kids OSU, and the rest of the Big 10, doesn’t get. Cincinnati also boasts one of the best Group of 5 football programs in the country. They are currently ranked #6 in the Sportsvival Top 25 poll and is nationally known as a top program. I think Cincy was a no brainer for the Big 12 to go after.
The UCF Knights coming to the Big 12 opens the Florida market to the conference. The state of Florida is typically one of the top three states for high school football recruits. The downside is most of the blue-chip recruits go to SEC or ACC schools. The upside is there are MANY recruits in Florida, so even the “lesser rated” players are still going to be very good. In 2015 UCF went 0-12 in football. They hired Scott Frost to be their head coach and he turned them around to 6-6 in 2016 and in 2017 UCF went undefeated. Josh Huepel took over in 2018 and kept the winning ways rolling. In 2021 former Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn took over for the departed Huepel. Malzahn is very familiar with winning in the SEC and if he’s still at UCF when they make the move to the Big 12 the Knights will not only have a good brand for football but also a very good name in Malzahn leading the charge. Malzahn is a brilliant offensive coach, and his teams are known for putting up points, again a key in the Big 12.
The gem of the new Big 12 schools is the BYU Cougars. BYU is Independent, having no conference ties. While they have scheduling contracts over the next decade, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the Cougars to get into the Big 12 as early as 2022. BYU has a large fan base which will aid in the Big 12’s viewership out west. The Cougars routinely have a winning football program (except against bitter rival Utah) and will boost the image of the Big 12. BYU has sent numerous players to the NFL, most recently New York Jets 1st round pick QB Zac Wilson. The Cougars play a wide-open offense and can score with the best of them.
None of these four schools will replace what the Big 12 is losing in Oklahoma and Texas. But for a conference that most left for dead this is a strong move. Most people, including me, expected the other Power 5 conferences to snatch up the remaining eight schools causing the Big 12 to dissolve. Kudos to commissioner Bob Bolwsby and the remaining eight schools for being proactive instead of taking the wait and see approach. All four new schools bring a good recent track record and a decent brand to the conference. When it comes to collegiate athletics football drives the bus, so you need a good brand. The better the brand, the more money the conference can get from a new TV deal. 2025 is the year the Big 12’s current TV deal expires. In a perfect world for the Big 12 Oklahoma and Texas will be forced to wait until then to move to the SEC. But there’s always a way out, and if Oklahoma and Texas decide to pay the $75-80M each would need to pay to get out of the conference early that money can be used to get the three AAC schools to the Big 12 faster. While the Big 12 will never be the same without Oklahoma and Texas I’m excited to see how the conference moves forward after those two are gone and the new schools start playing.