There has been a plethora (and yes, El Guapo, I know what a plethora is) of plans lately for how the Big 12 should proceed moving forward, but one thing that I think they have all failed to take into account are population trends. They focus almost exclusively on the present, with bit of the past thrown in for flavoring. I have seen very little regard for what things might look like in the future.
And this is all very understandable. People have never bee very good at predicting the future, no matter how much quality information they posses. However, if the Big 12 really wants to create some growth in the TV footprint, they need to look at where the TV markets are growing. It is tempting to look to the East, which already has a lot of people/TV sets and some good programs. Unfortunately, not only is there little projected growth in these markets, they are also more likely to be snapped up in the event that we do indeed move to 16 team "super-conferences".
So where, exactly, should we look to for growth? West.
The numbers from the 2010 Census are in, and they tell an interesting story. While all the headlines focused on the fact that the South added the most people from 2000-2010 and had the highest growth rate, they tended to gloss over the fact that the Mountain West was actually the fastest growing region of the country. Part of this has to do with how the Census organizes its data. They divide the country into four regions: Midwest, Northeast, South and West. The Mountain West got lumped in with the slower growing states on the West Coast and Alaska/Hawaii. The South, which includes Texas, had a growth rate of 14.3, while the West, which includes the Pacific states with an average 12.16 rate, had a growth rate of 13.8. If you subtract the Pacific states (in other words look at only the Mountain West) the average growth rate jumps up to 21.2. Take a look at the population change distribution in this map from the Census Bureau.
As you can see there is strong growth centered in the Mountain West states, Texas, and the South Eastern seaboard. Even more compelling are the long term trends in population growth. The Census put out a Population Distribution and Change Brief describing these trends in more detail. This chart from that brief shows that for the past 30 years, the Mountain West has had strong growth.
Most of the growth in the last 30 years has been focused in the West, and more specifically the Mountain West. In fact, the state that has led in growth in each of the past five decades is Nevada. As the population increases, those percentage points are worth more and more people, and Nevada shows no sign of slowing down. As you would expect, Nevada's growth is fueled almost exclusively by Las Vegas. But the other Mountain West States are no slouches either. Idaho had a >25 growth rate in the 90s and 21.1 for the 2000s. Almost identical cases with Utah and Arizona. Colorado's growth rate dropped from >25 to 16.9, but that still is strong.
Looking at these trends leads to the conclusion that whoever can get an early foothold in the Mountain West stand to benefit greatly in the years to come when the population continues to explode. That is likely what was driving the PAC-12s acquisition of Colorado and Utah. Yes, I know part of the reason those schools were invited was because Larry Scott gambled on getting Texas and this was the fall-back option. However, would the PAC allow this to even be a fallback option if they didn't think it was a viable one? They easily could have forced Colorado to only be part of a package deal with the rest of them, and stayed at 12 when the deal with Texas fell through.
One major immediate problem with these numbers is that although the Mountain West is growing really fast, their population is small enough that they still won't be huge players for a while.
Of course, the Big 12 is still reeling right now. Adding teams like UNLV would do nothing to address stability concerns in the short term. We definitely need to add some teams that don't look like desperation grabs. That's why we should, without a doubt, grab West Virginia when Missouri leaves. They have a decent market already, and they have an all-around decent athletic department. West Virginia alone won't be enough to change perceptions, though, so we need to get some more high-quality teams. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of high quality programs to pick from in the Mountain West.
BYU is obvious. However they have a Texas/Notre Dame complex, and as such it may complicate any deal being reached. If we can work out a deal with them where the conference doesn't completely sell out, we need to bring them in.
Now we are at 11 teams, so we need 1 more to get to a more manageable number. In order to hep even things out geographically, it makes sense to then add Louisville/Cincinnati. I would prefer Louisville of those two. This gets us to 12.
At this point, we can stand pat, and it would be a solid league. But, if the Big 12 foresees that the SEC wants to go to 16, and that West Virginia is part of that plan, it might be a good idea to prepare for their eventual departure. In this case, it would be a good idea to re-focus on the Mountain West.
Assuming that Notre Dame is off the table in football, the next step is to grab Boise State. I know all the arguments against them, and they are very compelling arguments. But BSU is in a quickly growing market and they are a great media storyline right now. Adding BSU would excite the TV people enough to change the narrative about the Big 12 being on it's death bed. the best part is that they have nowhere to go. The PAC will never take them, and they are too far for the B1G, ACC or SEC. In truth, they are almost too far for the Big 12 as well, but the Big 12 is close enough that it is not completely insane, geographically, to take them. Whether they would be able to maintain a high level of success is irrelevant. They have already shown a commitment to football, and membership in the Big 12 would help them at least maintain BCS conference level of quality (even if that is only Iowa State levels of success). BSU strengthens our national narrative and gets us into an emerging market.
Obvious home-run schools would be Arizona and Arizona State, but I am not convinced they would seriously consider that offer. Worth a shot though. After that, though, there is nobody. At this point, the Big 12 will be taking a gamble. I would even be OK with conditional membership that if the following schools don't meet certain requirements within so many years they automatically get booted from the conference. UNLV would be at the top of this list, but I could be wrong and I don't have enough information to really make a good guess. New Mexico seems like it could be good, but is it a better option that Colorado State?
So, here is a review of the steps the Big 12 should take, assuming Notre Dame is off the table:
1. Invite West Virginia.
2. Somehow get BYU without all of their stupid demands. If you can't get them move on to step 3.
3. Invite Louisville or Cincinnati. If you can't get BYU then go to step 4.
4. Invite Boise State to get us 12.
OR (if we invited BYU)
Decide if we want to be passive or if we want to be aggressive and expand to 14. If we want to go to 14 get both the Arizona schools or invite Boise State.
5. To get to 14, invite one more team from the Mountain West State. Either UNLV or another school from this region.
So what do you think of the overall plan? Any critiques of my reasoning? What Mountain West teams would you prefer to take? How angry is Pan going to be that I am even suggesting some of these schools?
Also, thanks must be given to Furnace for first getting me to seriously consider expanding to the Mountain West, even if I disagree with many of the conclusions in his post.