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Big 12 Expansion: Why It Needs to Happen, and How

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The Big 12's model melted last night, and it's time to fix it.

We need new friends.
We need new friends.
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, December 6, a comedy of errors resulted in devastation and despair across the Great Plains as the Big 12 was left out of the initial College Football Playoff. There were a slew of contributing factors, from things as absurd as the conference's public relations game to Ohio State road-grading Wisconsin to even, yes, Bob Stoops losing his mind at Bedlam.

There is one thing on which everyone agrees. Something -- something -- must be done. In one of the most insightful and reasoned pieces on the issue released in the last 24 hours, David Ubben points out that we can't lay all the blame on the conference offices, and he's absolutely correct. However, there is one thing he's wrong about.

Ubben asserts that the conference can't simply expand to 12 teams because there just isn't anyone worth adding, and while he may well have a point in regard to perception, that has never really been the issue. The issue, as he also acknowledges, is money... but when examining that issue all anyone seems to want to look at is how much money new members would bring in.

What they're ignoring is how much money this situation is costing the Big 12.

Each playoff participant dumps $6 million into conference coffers. Each New Year's Six bowl participant adds another $4 million. In addition, each playoff participant receives $2 million for expenses, which may as well be considered revenue since normal bowl invitations do not include an expense-payment slush.

It's true that this year, the Big 12's obstinance may have earned the Big 12 an extra $14 million. However, in the end what happened was that the Big 12 lost at least $4 million that they should have received, and possibly as much as $8 million. (In a divisional model, there would actually have been about a 40% chance of K-State going 11-1, with their only loss being to Auburn. In that scenario, a K-State loss in the championship game would almost certainly have still resulted in a Cotton Bowl bid -- and an 11-1 TCU may have made the playoff despite not winning the Big 12 South.)

That's a pretty steep swing. Instead of seeing $22 million in revenue from the playoff and New Year's bowls plus expenses, the Big 12 is only getting $8 from its top three teams.

It's worse than that, of course. The Big 12's round-robin schedule is great, aesthetically. Everyone playing everyone is absolutely the proper way to do things. But in a Machiavellian sense, taking into consideration the realities of the situation, what it really does is put the Big 12 at a disadvantage. The SEC is sending 12 teams to bowl games. The Big 10 is sending 10. Even the ACC is sending 11.

The Big 12 is sending 7. That's at least 3 bowl games worth of revenue the Big 12 isn't receiving -- revenue the Big 12 absolutely would receive if they operated under the same model in which the number of losses suffered by conference members is reduced. The Big 12 has to suffer an average of 4.5 losses per team no matter what happens in the non-conference. The SEC only has to suffer 4.0. That makes a huge difference.

So when we're told that Big 12 schools can expect $22 million a year in revenue and that any new members need to be worth something close to that in order to justify adding them... that's nonsense., because not having them is actually costing the league nearly an entire team's worth of revenue -- and that's not even counting the revenues to be gained from holding a conference championship game in the first place or the long-term and very real financial cost of being left out in the cold and eroded goodwill. These things add up, and the core mistake the Big 12 schools -- some of them, anyway -- have been making is to fail to look past the ends of their noses.

Obviously, then, the sensible and forward-thinking plan is to expand back to 12, immediately. The question is, who to get? There are, in my mind, five candidates -- actually six, but two are definitely an either-or pair.

Brigham Young

Pros:
  • some level of national fan following, though not nearly to the extent some would like to believe
  • quality program in all sports
Cons:
  • it's in the wrong direction, especially vis-a-vis West Virginia
  • scheduling issues
  • cultural fit
  • not a massive hotbed for recruiting
  • mediocre market size

Central Florida/South Florida

Pros:
  • large market size
  • good recruiting area
  • in UCF's case, program on the rise
Cons:
  • in USF's case, program spiraling downward due to horrible leadership
  • directional name leads to perception issue
  • will always be third-string option in its area
  • utterly unhelpful in terms of travel

Cincinnati

Pros:
  • great travel partner for West Virginia
  • access to decent media market
  • reasonably fertile recruiting ground
  • huge positive for basketball
  • blatant inroad into Big Ten territory
Cons:
  • still somewhat perceived as somewhat minor
  • media market isn't that large, and is overwhelmed by Ohio State
  • somewhat seedy reputation in some quarters
  • bottom-tier football facilities

Memphis

Pros:
  • geographically tight without duplicating existing market
  • well-heeled program desperately trying to build
  • quickly becoming respectable in football
  • huge basketball get
  • blatant inroad into SEC territory
Cons:
  • horrible reputation
  • shaky facilities
  • middling media market
  • while program is on the rise, could collapse at any time

Northern Illinois

Pros:
  • access to huge media market
  • program solidly in the "on the verge" category
  • blatant inroad into Big Ten territory
  • program somewhat beginning to cut into Illinois/Northwestern support in Chicago area
  • travel's not horrible
Cons:
  • directional stigma
  • MAC stigma
  • still option three in Chicago
  • questionable facilities

There are other candidates that get floated, but they all have critical flaws which make them non-starters. Colorado State is the closest to breaking out of this group, as they're now officially on the road to an on-campus stadium, but they still have a market problem and a perception problem. There is no way (or any rational excuse for) a Texas team joining, so sorry SMU and Houston. Connecticut is just too far to the east, and their football program is in shambles. Boise State is too far to the west, and oh god that field. North Dakota State has the small challenge of not being an FBS team.

Obviously, all the potential candidates have flaws, and none of them are big home runs from a financial angle. But the question is whether they can bring in enough revenue to justify their inclusion when compared to the losses the conference is suffering -- both financially and in prestige -- by not inviting any of them.

And when you look at the national reactions to the Big 12 follies the last 24 hours, the answer should be patently obvious. The conference may have lost more in goodwill this weekend than they'd ever dream of losing as a result of having two of these teams in the fold. Some wiseacre in the conference office may be of the opinion that "no publicity is bad publicity", but they're wrong. The brand is being damaged right now, as we speak, and it needs to be repaired as soon as possible.