After months of speculation, peaks and valleys and more than a little recent political maneuvering, it looks like the nation's long-suffering endurance of Big XII expansion speculation may be coming to an entirely fitting conclusion, when a conference that probably shouldn't expand at all will not only evaluate expansion, but evaluate 18 different schools for what will probably amount to two (or zero) spots.
Honestly, and I don't say this in a braggadocious way at all, I watch as much college football as anybody I know (not named John Harris), and I would have a hard time naming 18 schools outside the Power Five conferences that are even GOOD AT FOOTBALL, let alone deserving candidates for ESPN and FOX to shower them with more than $20 million in annual TV rights fees.
And therein lies the real fly in the ointment in all of this expansion talk — ESPN and FOX. Once it became blatantly obvious that the ten existing Big XII schools were merely looking at adding more schools to the conference because the letter of the law in the TV contracts would require the networks to duke them equal shares of TV revenue for the new schools (even though they're not worth that), the networks balked and said, "Wait a second...really, bro?"
In other words, the ten existing Big XII schools are thinking of executing what amounts to a blatant cash grab that will completely alienate their two biggest television partners. It's shortsighted, it's slimy...in other words, it's the Big XII!
So sometime in the near future, Big XII commissioner Bob Bowlsby and his inner circle will evaluate the 18 candidates and determine if expansion makes sense, and if it does, how many schools to add. Let's start with the list of schools, as first reported by Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com:
Now up to 18 on Big 12’s expansion list: AF ArkSt Boise BYU Cincinnati CSU UConn ECU Houston Memphis NIU NM SDSU SMU Temple Tulane UCF USF— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) August 12, 2016
Now, just to be clear, before we assess the odds of individual schools being added, let's post the odds on whether the Big XII expands at all, because I don't think expansion is (a) a good idea or (b) a foregone conclusion. This is just my gut feel, but here goes:
Will the Big XII expand beyond ten schools in 2016?
Yes, I still think there's a better-than-even-money chance that, when it's all said and done, the Big XII will look at the landscape and have a hard time gaining a necessary consensus (eight of ten schools must approve) on expansion and/or which schools would make sense. Basically, what I'm saying is that making a HUGE deal out of a need to expand and then doing nothing would be the most "Big XII move" ever.
That said, let's move on in this post as if expansion is happening...
If expansion does happen, how many schools will be added to the Big XII?
Two schools -800
Four schools +500
I think the conference could find two schools that are sellable to ESPN and FOX as valuable expansion commodities, or close enough to "valuable" that it's not offensive to the two networks. I think finding four is a real stretch and only spreads both of the conference's network partners even thinner financially. Two schools feels like a logical middle ground from a commonsense and a mathematical standpoint. (Two six-team divisions, yay!)
So below, for purposes of our payout on the odds, we will work under the assumption that the Big XII is adding two schools. However, even if they add four, the sequence below is still a decent gauge as to how they may stack rank those schools.
Here we go...
The "No Shots"
ARKANSAS STATE +10,000
Because when you can add the Arkansas TV market, you don't walk, you run to rock it in!
NORTHERN ILLINOIS +10,000
The Big XII does realize that there is more to the northern part of Illinois than the city of Chicago, right? Like massively depressing cornfields and toll roads leading out to NIU, which is a good two hours from the city, in the middle of nowhere, in DeKalb. Also, it's one thing to add cold weather, but it's another thing to add ARCTIC weather. Compared to most of the Big XII, DeKalb is arctic come, say, mid-October.
NEW MEXICO +10,000
I have to admit, the existence of the Breaking Bad reality tour has me kind of rooting for New Mexico. The presence of Bob Davie kind of cancels that out, though.
EAST CAROLINA +10,000
Got to love a school that blatantly campaigns for Big XII inclusion on the school's Twitter account.
If Bill Cosby weren't such a sociopath, and he were still accepted in society, Temple might have a puncher's chance. But alas, he is awful...
SAN DIEGO STATE +5,000
San Diego State's pitch should be to fly Bowlsby to San Diego, have him step off the plane, look around for like three minutes and just say, "Well, what do you think, Bob?"
The Long Shots
SMU just invested $150 million in facilities, but unfortunately, that's $50 million for each football win the school has attained over the past two seasons. Sorry, Mustangs, you'll have to settle for having really hot Metroplex coeds. Oh well.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!!
COLORADO STATE +2,000
Do we know if Bowlsby is a pot smoker? His handling of conference expansion would seem to indicate that he is, which makes the Rams (and their legal weed) a viable long shot!
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA +2,000
It's in Florida. That's the extent of USF's pitch. Yay.
BOISE STATE +1,500
Boise State is the most successful football program of any of these schools over the past decade or so, including three Fiesta Bowl wins. Apparently, they're trying to mix some sort of tacit Obama approval into their pitch, too, which I'm guessing may not resonate with the entirety of their (affluent, white, conservative) audience of Big XII school presidents. Just a hunch.
AIR FORCE +1,500
Now one way to make sure that conference expansion has no P.R. stink on it would be to add service academies, and if you're going to add Air Force, just add Navy, too, and call it a day. Who (other than the other schools on this list) complains about that?
UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA +1,000
Another chance to get into the Florida footprint, although going 0-12 last season is not exactly a great billboard for saying, "Hey, check out our football program...huh? Hmmmm? What do ya think?"
They got that big FedEx money behind them promising sponsorship of the Big XII title game, and Memphis football would have a captive audience in that town, since there's no NFL team. The problem is that Memphis football has only been good just recently, and the head coach who constructed that team is gone now. Still, Memphis must be taken seriously.
UConn is interesting because it has the best combined men's and women's basketball product to offer among expansion candidates (and it's not even close), but just so-so football. Additionally, it will be interesting to see if ESPN, which is located about 45 minutes from the campus, would exert any influence here — "Fine, you want us to pay $20 million, then we get to have a say in the schools that get picked." From a TV perspective, when you add the basketball to the geographic footprint (UConn is as much a New York draw as Rutgers is), the Huskies get interesting.
Once thought to be a lock based solely on the quality of football, BYU seems to elicit more discussion of headaches it may bring, rather than benefit. The protest by the LGBT community, and the Cougars' religious beliefs precluding Sunday games, may be enough for the conference to look elsewhere, and if that's the case...
I'll address these two as a package — this would seem to be the perfect pairing of schools that would check off the most boxes. Yes, soft head coaches like Mike Gundy, who this week fretted over what adding UH would do to his recruiting efforts in Houston, may get their panties in a bunch, but this is business. Houston and Cincinnati both bring football programs that have averaged nine wins per season since 2011, and while Cincinnati expands the footprint into Ohio (making TV happy), Houston brings several possible ratings-generating matchups with other Texas schools (also making TV happy). (SIDEBAR — If I'm the TV networks, I practically make Houston's giving Tom Herman another gigantic raise a clause in the deal.) These are both schools that have positioned themselves for this moment for the past few years, so rewarding forward thinking is an ancillary, karmic benefit. This is the option — two schools, Houston and Cincinnati — if the Big XII is indeed expanding, that involves the most sensible thinking and the least amount of network partner alienation.
Which means, knowing the Big XII, that they will probably expand by four schools, none of which are Houston or Cincinnati.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 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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