We're on the backstretch now, faithful readers. Today's installment covers a school that most people have at the top of their list, as we discuss the case for Cincinnati with Phil Neuffer (@PhilNeuffer), the man with all the answers over at SB Nation's Bearcats blog Down the Drive.
Jon: First off, on a scale of 1-10, how badly does the fanbase want the Big 12 to extend an invite?
Phil: That’s an easy question to start. I would put UC fans at a hard nine and that’s probably too conservative a representation.
Jon: With everyone else we're doing these Q&As with, this question has been about the administration's enthusiasm. In Cincinnati's case, asking that question would be utterly stupid; Santa Ono has been the university president most openly campaigning for an invite. So we'll instead ask: is Ono getting any pushback internally from the Board of Trustees or the faculty?
Phil: As far as I know, its full steam ahead from the entire university. Ono is one of the more outspoken and visible university presidents out there, but even I find it hard to believe that he would be so blatantly campaigning for inclusion if there was a lot of dissension in the rooms where it happens. (Was that a Hamilton reference? Why yes it was. No big deal.)
Jon: Cincinnati has been really snakebitten with conference realignment over the past quarter-century. They left the Metro for the Great Midwest, only to have that conference fail and basically be re-absorbed in the formation of Conference USA. Then C-USA turned out to be not that great a thing either, and the Bearcats were finally able to escape, joining the Big East just in time for that league to start imploding. And then the American got left out of the discussion when it came time to reorganize college football. Does any of this, combined with the potential breakup of the Big 12 no matter what happens with expansion, scare you?
Phil: *Plugs ears* LALALALALALALALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU. EVERYTHING IS FINE.
In all seriousness, jumping to the Big 12 is not as big a slam dunk as it appeared moving to the Big East was. In the last decade or so, UC has done a great job of building itself out of the ‘fun mid-major’ trap it was in during the Conference USA years. Even though that era featured some of the greatest players and teams in UC history (basketball particularly), being outside of one of the major conferences always seemed to marginalize its success, at least in my view.
Joining the Big East put the Bearcats in the same class as Syracuse, Villanova and the like. On top of that, at the time, it appeared that the conference was doing just fine and would continue to be the greatest basketball conference ever conceived for quite a while. That didn’t last, obviously, and jumping into bed with a conference that already has some shaky elements like the Big 12 does cause some pause. However, the draw the league presents (increased revenue, better recruiting and better overall competition) is too much to pass up just because UC’s been burned in the past.
Jon: We'll get to the things which the suits will focus on -- money, academics, and success -- in a minute. What wacky benefits which the administrations don't care about at all would Cincinnati bring to the Big 12?
Phil: Umm, obviously Down the Drive would suddenly start writing about the Big 12 all the time. That’s your benefit. Plus UC has some cool alumni (George Clooney, ever heard of him? William Howard Taft. He was president, no big deal), you Big 12 folk will get a chance to try out Skyline chili and a friend of mine once called Cincinnati the “City of Light” so it’s basically Paris but in Ohio. Lastly, Walk the Moon, the band behind that song played at every wedding in the country the last two years, is from Cincy so that’s neat.
Jon: If Cincy joined, who do you think they'd quickly form rivalries with? What Big 12 cities are you most excited about potentially visiting?
Phil: Well, as some genius already put forward West Virginia makes a lot of sense. There’s some history there and proximity certainly makes it easier. Iowa State could be a regional(ish) rivalry as well. Oh, and Oklahoma. Not because it makes sense but because of what their Board of Regents chairman, Max Weitzenhoffer, said about UC.
The easy answer is Austin but I also think going to Manhattan would be cool. I’ve never been and its in all the movies. *Puts hand to ear” Wait, I’m being told that it’s not THAT Manhattan. Lawrence would be high on my list because I’m more of a basketball guy and getting to see Allen Fieldhouse would be dope dot com.
Jon: Why do WE want to come visit Ohio? What's great about Cincinnati? What's your fanbase REALLY like (warts and all)?
Phil: Outside of UC and its superior athletic facilities, Cincinnati has some other cool sports stuff to check out. Great American Ball Park has America in its name (so if you don’t love it you hate America) and it is one of the nicest parks to catch a game in. We’ve also got some cool museums for the history buff in all of (some of?) us and its actually relatively cheap despite being a top 35 media market. There’s also Graeters and for the 21-and-over crowd there’s some great breweries (Mt. Carmel, MadTree etc). Cheap, beer, ice cream, America. What else do you want?
As far as the fan base goes, a lot of folks are also Reds and Bengals fans so disappointment isn’t something all that unfamiliar. But even so, there is an intense sense of loyalty to the Bearcats and a belief that we are just a step away from being the UC of the Oscar Robertson and Kenyon Martin days.
Jon: And now, the big one. Pretend we're the Big 12 Board of Directors. Why should we invite Cincinnati as opposed to anyone else? SELL US.
Phil: How would you like to have a recruiting pipeline in Ohio? One that could help you steal some players away from those Buckeye morons at Ohio State? Is that something you’d be interested in?
What about a program that doesn’t occasionally stumble upon a winning season in football or basketball (ahem USF) or crash and burn after a few good years (ahem UCF) or have a nice base but not an established tradition ingrained in its media market (ahem UConn)? I’m talking about a football program that’s been to nine bowl games in the last 10 years including two BCS bowls. Is that something that might interest you? Plus the basketball program that has won national titles (shut up, ones in the 60s still count) and has been to the NCAA Tournament six years in a row and in 20 of the last 25.
What about branching out to an entirely new media market, one ranked 34th in the country, without having to worry about teams taking cross country flights every other week? How does that strike you? Sure, trying to get the New York or Florida markets might seem flashy but the value you get with Cincinnati far outweighs the chance of maybe getting eyeballs in bigger markets on your football games. I bet you’d also like to add a program that has invested in upgrading its stadium and athletic facilities. Well, Nippert Stadium just got redone and Fifth Third just signed a deal to get a face lift by 2018. So, check and check.
Members of the board, I know I’ve just asked you a lot of questions, but there is only one answer. Yes.
Although we're going to have to have another talk with Phil about trying to foist Skyline off on people who regularly visit Texas, our discussions on this topic over the last few years have been nearly unanimous. We already know that most of you would support Cincinnati getting an invitation, but we'll still ask for your input. Tomorrow, we'll present our final Q&A session as we do a 180 and look way out west: it's time to talk Boise State.