Realignment Today: Reports indicate Big 12 zeroing in on making a serious push to expand with 4 schools
It had been building steam throughout the past couple of weeks, but it now appears to be nearing lock status.
According to multiple reports, the Big 12 Conference has zeroed in on BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida as four top candidates for expansion.
In fact, Brett McMurphy, of Action Network, reported Friday that a source with knowledge of the Big 12’s thinking told him that there are currently no other targets.
A Thursday report from The Athletic noted that Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby paid a visit to the Houston campus to discuss expansion plans.
And several other reports dating back to last week indicated that the Big 12 had zeroed in on BYU as its top choice in potential expansion.
All four programs bring good football, national brands and the potential for growth.
Cincinnati, Houston and UCF all have played in at least one New Year’s Six bowl game in the past six seasons. And BYU, which finished 11-1 in 2020, ended last season ranked No. 11 in the final Associated Press poll.
A source told McMurphy that the Big 12 decision makers viewed TV audience, football status and market size as the three most important factors in their discussions of which schools to add. But, McMurphy also reported that each school’s basketball brand carried significant weight, with the Big 12 putting 75% of its considerations toward football and the remaining 25% on basketball.
Even combined, however, they’re not likely to be deemed as valuable as Oklahoma and Texas, which are planning to leave the Big 12 in 2025 upon the expiration of the current grant of rights agreement among the 10 teams in the conference today.
Still, for a conference on shaky ground, moving quickly to bring stability with four pretty solid schools can only be viewed as a win. For now.
The long-term impact of these moves remains unknown. While Bowlsby said this week that the Big 12 ADs expressed a desire to stick together and focus on rebuilding a strong Big 12 for the future, the potential for any of the existing members to look to move elsewhere figures to remain in place for at least a little while.
For one, none of these moves to add the top four candidates will be effective immediately. McMurphy’s report indicated that formal invitations to the four schools could go out this month. But even that would not pave the way for them to be in the Big 12 anytime soon.
BYU, as an independent in football and a member of the West Coast Conference in other sports, may have the easiest time transitioning if things do in fact go this way.
But in order for the other three schools to leave the American Athletic Conference, they would need to go through a process similar to the one OU and UT are currently facing, with required notice, exit fees and more.
McMurphy’s report said a source told him that BYU could be in the Big 12 as soon as 2022, with the other three schools possibly joining a year later.
All of that would leave time for the current Big 12 schools to field offers, explore options and even sell themselves to one of the other power conferences that likely will move into the new era of college athletics significantly ahead of whatever the revamped Big 12 looks like in terms of dollars and TV contracts.
That’s not to say the Big 12 couldn’t be a safe space. It probably won’t come close to the $35-40 million member payouts currently enjoyed under the existing television deals. But it’s possible that this new group could find a partner (or perhaps multiple partners) that deem the new-look league to be worth $20 million annually or so.
For Kansas, and the rest of the remaining eight, that would be a better outcome than falling into the Mountain West Conference or even the AAC, but obviously not as good as landing a spot in one of the four other power conferences.
The question moving forward will be simple: Do those other conferences (a) want or (b) feel the need to expand.
Time will tell on that. And the answer may very well be no. At least for a while.
If that’s the case, KU would do well to get on board with this Big 12 expansion for stability's sake while protecting its own interests by quietly continuing to explore what options are available and by keeping any new TV contract to a minimum if they need to sign one at all.
It’s likely that any new deal or agreement with a television partner would include a composition clause of some kind to protect the interests of the Big 12 against future departures by any of its members.
Adjustments to and renegotiations of media contracts has been a regular part of the college athletics landscape in recent years, and, for the Big 12, it almost has to be a part of the equation moving forward.