Just over one month after Texas and Oklahoma shocked all of college football by announcing their intent to leave for the SEC, the Big 12 is beginning to pick up the pieces by adding four new teams: Brigham Young, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston.
These Group of Five powers won’t replace the Longhorns and Sooners. But all four programs represent the best available options for a conference that was portrayed as on life support before the start of the regular season.
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The Big 12 Conference is set to expand by four schools.
Why is this happening?
Texas and Oklahoma triggered a doomsday scenario for the Big 12, which without those two bluebloods lacked the depth and national appeal to continue existing as one of the power conferences that rule the Football Bowl Subdivision. It was also thought that this move could lead to massive realignment across the entire FBS landscape; for now, that hasn’t been the case.
But the Big 12 did face a dilemma: Could it survive with an eight-team lineup of Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia? Maybe. But this league’s TV deal would be exponentially smaller than the current payouts given to members of the Big 12.
Why these four schools?
All four additions fit inside the Venn diagram of athletic success and local and national appeal. Most importantly, all four bring some cachet — though clearly not nearly as much as the Longhorns and Sooners — when it comes to the league’s ability to negotiate a strong broadcast package when the current grant of media rights deal expires before the 2025 season.
The on-field success speaks for itself. These four teams have gone a combined 61-31 across the past two seasons even as Houston has struggled under coach Dana Holgorsen. Cincinnati was No. 10 in the preseason USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll and is a real contender for the College Football Playoff. UC, Houston and UCF have made New Year’s Six bowls during the playoff era, while BYU went 11-1 and finished No. 11 in the final Coaches Poll of 2020.
When could this become official?
The official announcement could come within a matter of days, a person aware of the league’s conversations told USA TODAY Sports. That person spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the deliberations.
How will other Power Five conferences respond?
This won’t trigger any corresponding moves from the remaining members of the Power Five. The Pac-12 has already said it will not pursue expansion. The SEC is standing pat — though that could certainly change in the future. Likewise with the ACC and the Big Ten. In short, these additions from the Big 12 aren’t robbing the Big Ten of possible expansion candidates, for example. If that league does expand, it will by taking in current members of other Power Five conferences.
What’s the fallout?
So the fallout would be limited to the American, which could lose three flagship members at a time when the league was making a strong case for being mentioned alongside the ACC and Pac-12 in terms of overall depth. With those schools gone, the AAC would have to evaluate existing options in the Group of Five.
The good news is that there are several solid candidates on that level, especially if the ACC is willing to toss aside geography and create a truly national conference. Could Boise State and San Diego State be options out of the Mountain West? If the American does go shopping, the impact on the Group of Five could have a significant impact on that level of competition.