I have known Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany for more than 30 years. I have had numerous conversations with him about college athletics and the future he saw in terms of conference re-configuration. Delany is the most powerful man in college athletics and has proven it time after time as he has guided the Big Ten to its Super Conference status.
I would never presume to speak for Delany, but if he were the Commissioner of the Big 12 and had an expansion plan on his desk, this is what I think he would do.
Four schools. Two full members, two football only.
Football only–BYU and UConn
Full members–Cincinnati OR Memphis, UCF.
The popular term in terms of conference expansion is “Geographic footprint.” Delany saw that by bringing the Big Ten into the Northeast with Rutgers and Maryland.
In looking at the Big 12 and listening to and reading about the plans for expansion, this is where the conference does NOT make a geographic footprint: the Mountain Time Zone, the Northeast, and the Southeast.
It also is overloaded in the state of Texas.
In looking at those gaps, a four school expansion plan jumps off the page.
Let’s start West and move East.
BYU is the most obvious. And so is its membership as a “football’only partner. The sticky issue of Sunday scheduling for sports is eliminated. It establishes a “footprint in the Mountain Time Zone and it comes at a bargain price–a football only share would be much cheaper than a full member.
Add BYU as a football only member
The most obvious answer is UCF. Situated in Orlando, Central Florida brings Orlando, a big television market, it brings Florida, a deep recruiting oasis and it establishes a footprint in SEC and ACC territory.
If you want to argue distance as a factor, forget about it. It is easier to get to Orlando from Lubbock or Waco than it is to get to Ames, Iowa. Orlando is also a destination point for fans in terms of vacation.
Add UCF as a full member
The other full member should be Memphis OR Cincinnati. Or is the key word. The Big 12 doesn’t need both programs, which have many similarities.
My inclination would be more towards Cincinnati to get into Ohio and Big Ten territory. Memphis is offering money (Fed Ex), but again look at the big picture. What does Memphis really bring?
Add Cincinnati as a full member in a close call.
UConn is the clear and only real choice. The argument against UConn is that the Huskies bring more with full membership (men’s and women’s basketball) than they do with football. But again look at the BIG picture.
UConn brings Boston and New York television into the equation. Yes, UConn football will hardly move the televison ratings needle in CT. And yes, it is located in Storrs.
But the budget commitment is already there (more than 70 million dollars), which is more than any of the other contenders. The commitment of the administration to make things work is there and is proven. UConn, if you recall, received a Fiesta Bowl bid.
Games could be scheduld in Foxboro, Ma at Gillette Stadium and in the Meadowlands at Met Life Stadium. You don’t think a UConn-Texas or a UConn-Oklahoma game would draw attention? Do you think Rutgers would be happy with competing on a football weekend witih Oklahoma-UConn a few exits up the New Jersey Turnpike?
As a football only member, other Big 12 schools would have to come East only once every two years. Again it gets you into the Northeast.
Do you think Jim Delany is bothered by the ineptness of Rutgers as a new Big Ten member. The Big Ten is in New York. It has a branch office in NYC. The Big Ten basketball tournament is coming to Madison Square Garden.
There is also an answer for the “basketball” issue. Work out a deal with UConn, which requires the Huskies to have their men’s and women’s basketball teams play a set number of games against Big 12 teams EVERY year. Notre Dame is doing this in football in the ACC. It’s a good compromise.
UConn would love the idea because it allows the Huskies to reconnect with the Big East in all of their other sports.
The Big 12 should love it because, like BYU, it gets a football only member at a bargain price with maximum benefits.
Missing from this equation is Houston, which has become the morning line favorite as a full Big 12 member because of the political pressure exercised by Texas. Please.
The Big 12 DOES NOT NEED another Texas school. The conference already has the Houston market because Texas has it. And so do teams like Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU. All have pockets of fans in the Houston area. An overload of Texas is part of the reason the Southwest Conference disappeared.
Before anyone thinks that simply because the UT said Houston was going to happen makes it a done deal, remember this. It takes 8 votes to get approval. All that has to happen is for Oklahoma to piggy back with a couple of its Northern tier partners and the deal is over.
And, if you walk around the Texas campus in Austin, you will find large pockets of opposition to adding Houston.
So there you have it. Four teams. Two full time members, two football only. A geographic expansion footprint which brings the Big 12 into the Mountain Time Zone, into the Northeast, into Florida and into Ohio.
The Big 12 wants an equal chair with the SEC and Big Ten, ACC and Pac 12. This would do a great deal to make that happen. It increases television markets, it widens recruiting areas and it is not difficult to do. All that is now required is to make four phone calls–the answer will be YES–each time.
If Jim Delany were commissioner of the Big 12, he would have it done by Labor Day.
And a word of caution. When Delany gets out his Risk board and looks at conference alignment and a possible move by the Big Ten, the University of Texas is the most obvious target.