Big XII Begins Deep Dive on Expansion, Conference Title Game and Network
The next several weeks are huge for the future of the Big XII.
It's been a huge discussion point on talk radio and in print (even in a big feature article here!) ever since the Big XII's mass school exodus back in 2011 and 2012, and its subsequent semi-refill with West Virginia and TCU around that same time — the growth of the Big XII back to 12 teams (which, at the very least, would be nice for those of us who like to take things like conference names literally).
This week, Big XII athletics directors and football coaches gather in Phoenix for meetings, strategy sessions and a few beers in advance of the main event, the Big XII meetings that take place from May 31 from June 3. The second round will add school presidents and boards of directors to the dance card for what will arguably be the most important conference meetings in the history of the league.
The points of contention among the ten schools boil down to three very intertwined issues — the expansion of the league back to 12 teams, the rebirth of a conference championship game, and the advent of a conference network along the lines of the SEC's and Big Ten's conference networks.
The backdrop of the first two topics, conference expansion and the title game, is the College Football Playoff — how do a 12-team league and an eight-game league schedule with a conference title game affect the conference's odds of getting a team into the four-team postseason playoff?
The sample space is only two postseasons, but so far the league's lack of a conference title game led directly to the Big XII's exclusion in 2014, and in 2015 Oklahoma was able to make the playoff despite not playing in a conference title game, although it's worth noting that the team did fall from third to fourth in the seeding after the other conferences played their title games the final week of the season, indicating that, at the very least, it hurt Oklahoma's seeding not having played in a conference title game.
The Big XII hired a research firm out of Chicago, Navigate Research, to examine the effect of a conference title game on the odds of getting a team into the playoff, which seems like taking fire to a pile of money considering there are only two postseasons to even examine thus far, making it like trying to determine if a hitter is a big-league-caliber hitter off of 20 at-bats. But whatever, I guess.
Big XII Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who it should be noted is an advocate for expansion and a conference title game, says that the numbers indicate expansion is the way to improve the league's chances at getting into the College Football Playoff by about 5 percent. Again, how they arrive at that estimate off a historical sample of two postseasons, I have no idea.
The other items on the agenda for the Big XII meetings in Irving later this month and early June are the examination of conference schedules based on ten-, 12- and 14-team league models, as well as a report on the feasibility of a conference network, an especially hairy issue given the presence of the Longhorn Network and the $15 million annual windfall that Texas receives from its existence.
On the expansion issue, the focus centers around these candidates, in tiers:
I'll be honest, I hadn't even thought about the Seminoles as a Big XII target until I read the list in that article linked above, but pursuing them, at the very least, makes sense. The ACC's TV situation is the most tenuous among the Power Five conferences other than the Big XII, so if the Big XII could somehow arrive at a solution that includes a lucrative conference network with the state of Florida as part of the package AND that state's best program...WOW. It's a long shot, but a bold move may be necessary to ensure survival. Also, it would be very ironic if the end game for the ACC in realignment involved losing Florida State, its marquee school, to the Big XII, since the ACC touched all this madness off back in 2003 when it raided the Big East for Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech.
Geographically, it's on an island, and it doesn't really add much in the way of TV viewership from a metro-area standpoint, but the football program has some residual sizzle from its recent heyday, and the athletics programs overall are pretty solid. Would likely need a travel partner of some sort as the 12th team. Which could be...
Currently independent in football (and WCC in Olympic sports), so it's a fairly easy add. For a school tucked into a sparsely populated region, BYU has a pretty sizable national following through its religious affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The religious aspect of the school is something to keep in mind, though, when it comes to academic and other strategies put forth with conference affiliation. Private, parochial schools don't always align with huge state schools.
If I were betting on Big XII expansion, Cincy would be one of my two bets, for sure. Solid football and basketball programs, forward-thinking leadership and the Ohio market, which is one of the few areas remaining for the Big XII to expand into that could bring enough TV viewership to justify the move. Also, this would give West Virginia a geographic partner and the league a recruiting avenue into the fertile Ohio area.
Do the other worldly basketball programs cancel out the underwhelming football program? That's the question on the field/court. As for other aspects, UConn brings virtually the entire New England and New York area in terms of TV panache. Put it this way — if the Big Ten can justify adding Rutgers with "hey, they bring New York City!" then so can UConn. The Huskies and their rich history in the old Big East carry way more cachet in the Big Apple than the Scarlet Knights do.
If we were putting together a WWE card, on which you're looking for the matches that would reel in the most fans, Houston would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, we are looking at a far different criterion, a criterion that is laden with political agendas and the need to "grow the footprint." Houston has a better shot at Power Five inclusion if the Pac-12 decides to move into Texas, which may happen if the Big XII touches off another round of realignment. Root for chaos, Coog Fan!
Expansion to 14 or even 16 teams might be necessary for any of these schools to get admission, and the only reason for adding them would be for TV expansion as they're all in geographic areas where the Big XII currently has no presence.
With the four other Power Five conferences all very stable, the Big XII's efforts to steady the shifting plates underneath them will be determined by their decisions over the next few months.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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