Sizing up what the top Big 12 expansion candidates mean for Kansas
If you’ve followed any of the Big 12 expansion talk, whether in the past few years or just the past few days, you’ve probably heard it all.
From which universities are most likely to join the conference to which are the best fit and whether those who already are in the conference are planning to stay there, you’ve likely heard it all.
Of course, a good chunk of that time was spent deciphering whether the Big 12 was even going to expand at all. And, although we still do not know with 100 percent certainty that that is going to happen, the conference’s recent vote that authorized commissioner Bob Bowlsby to strongly dissect the pros and cons of all interested parties leads many to believe that Big 12 expansion is coming.
We may know more as soon as September and the big questions now are this: Who’s joining and will the Big 12 expand to 12 or 14?
Hindsight many years from now may tell us otherwise, but as things stand today, it does not seem like expansion will be a bad thing for KU. There’s the fear by some that the revenue split will go down, which certainly would be bad for KU, but if the TV contracts are renegotiated then the bottom line number may not drop that much and could even go up.
With that element of this whole situation understood and still as vague as it can be, let’s take a quick look at what the addition of each rumored contender would mean for Kansas.
BYU – Adding the Cougars does not really do anything for Kansas that it doesn’t do for the rest of the conference. If anything, it would bring another tough football program that KU will have to contend with as it attempts to climb out of the Big 12 basement and rebuild its football program into something respectable. BYU’s national brand would bring a few more eyeballs and television sets to Lawrence, Kansas, but not so much that it makes the BYU addition a reason to celebrate.
CINCINNATI - Cincy’s a much bigger city — 65th largest city in the US, 34th largest TV market — than the rest of the Big 12 home bases, which are described as college towns and not metropolitan areas, and adding the Bearcats would bring respectable football of late, a historically solid basketball program and inroads into a strong football recruiting base. That recruiting door sliding open — both for football and basketball — would probably be the most noteworthy aspect of this addition for Kansas.
COLORADO STATE - Kansas is already used to this trip, having partnered with Colorado in the Big 8 and Big 12 for years, so expansion to its neighbor to the west would not be as big of a transition for KU as it would for others. At least today, KU has a bigger athletic department budget than CSU and would be well positioned to stay ahead of the Rams in the Big 12 pecking order. But CSU is in the process of bringing to Fort Collins a $200-million on-campus football stadium and, under former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy, who is more than a little familiar with Kansas basketball, has enjoyed a strong and somewhat silent stretch of basketball during the past few seasons. Clearly, this is a program on the rise and, if what I’ve heard about their campaign for Big 12 inclusion is accurate, this is going to be one of the more aggressive schools out there when it comes to bidding for a Big 12 spot.
HOUSTON - I’m a big fan of what Houston is doing right now, but I’m not sure Kansas should be. Houston, in many ways, is a bit of a sleeping giant and could really blow up if it lands under the Big 12 umbrella. That would not necessarily be good news for Kansas, especially the football program. Right now, KU football can go into Houston and get some of those athletes who do not choose to sign with Texas, Texas A&M, TCU and Baylor, occasionally even beating out UH for some of the same recruits. But if the Cougars are added to the conference, KU’s edge of being in a Power 5 conference goes away and it would make sense to assume that more than a few of those athletes would decide to stay home.
MEMPHIS - That high-dollar FedEx sponsorship that has been promised, should Memphis get in, would be a great thing for the Big 12 Conference and every single school in the league would benefit big time from that. From a competition perspective, it doesn’t seem like the Tigers would be too much of a threat to what KU can do. We’ll find out more about that in mid-September, when the Jayhawks head to Memphis for their third football game of the season. If anything, adding the Tigers would be a boost for the KU basketball program, provided that new head coach, Tubby Smith, can do in Memphis what he was starting to do at Texas Tech, giving KU an even greater strength of schedule than it already would have and another quality component to battle with in the weeks leading up to the Big Dance.
TULANE - Like the addition of Houston, this would be another blow to KU football, given KU’s recent success in recruiting the New Orleans area. If Tulane gets in, it joins LSU in becoming the only other Power 5 program in the state. That would do wonders for the Tulane football program, which, after inclusion, would have a lot more to offer all of that in-state talent that now is looking elsewhere for its college football needs. There are two sides to every coin, though, so as much as adding Tulane could hurt, it also could help make the mileage gap between Lawrence and Louisiana seem a little smaller given the conference brotherhood.
UCF – Orlando’s a big time market and there’s a lot to gain for the entire conference, should the Big 12 brass believe that now is the time to expand its footprint into Florida. The guess here is that it won’t be, but UCF recently has upgraded its coaching by bringing in Johnny Dawkins (of Stanford and Duke fame) to coach hoops and Scott Frost (of Nebraska and Oregon fame) to coach football. If that doesn’t tell you how serious the Knights are about upgrading their athletic department, nothing will. Adding a Florida-based program would be a bigger lift for KU football than KU hoops. Right now, Bill Self can go anywhere on the planet to recruit an athlete, while KU football has a more focused recruiting region. Adding UCF to the Big 12 would probably be the push KU needed to start exploring with a little more regularity what it can do in the Sunshine State.
UCONN – By far the biggest basketball program on the list that would add buzz to the Big 12, bringing UConn in would give Kansas its first truly elite conference partner in the college basketball world. Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas during the past decade or so all have been big time in the college basketball world. But those three combined can’t touch what UConn has done on the college basketball landscapre. National titles — both men’s and women’s — and Hall of Fame coaches are commonplace in Storrs, Connecticut. Add to that the fact that the UConn campus is less than an hour from ESPN headquarters in Bristol. The travel hit here would be significant. Storrs is 524 miles east of West Virginia (think Lawrence to Dallas), but the advantages seem to far outweigh the disadvantages.