Now that the Big XII has flirted and teased expansion and given about 20 hopeful programs blue balls, I’d like to put my take out there on who the Big XII should invite. I realize that internal faction politics of the Big XII means expansion is probably never going to happen. However, just in case the conference collectively gets its head out of its own ass, here’s how the conference should approach expansion.
Most previous expansions of the Power 5 conferences looked at cable TV eyeballs to determine who to invite. This is why the B1G invited Rutgers and Maryland. With cord cutting and cable subscriptions going down, this may be an antiquated view. The B1G thinking at the time went that more TV money meant programs could spend on facilities that recruits liked AND on the salaries of coaches the recruits like.
That thinking is essentially a bank shot to getting the best players. The goal instead should be to get the best recruits to choose to attend a member institution of the Big XII with TV as a secondary goal. It is kind of a chicken and the egg problem. The best recruits want to play for winning football programs, and winning football programs have the best recruits. The trick is to find a way to kick start the positive feedback loop.
The Big XII conference as a whole has not been recruiting the nation’s top athletes as well as the other Power 5 conferences. When the conference’s best recruiting school (Oklahoma) gets beat by another Power 5 conference’s best recruiting school (Ohio State) as badly as it did (45-24), you know the state of the conference recruiting is not where it needs to be. Recruiting isn’t necessarily destiny in college football, but it’s close.
Bud Elliot points out that adding Houston would be good for the conference as a whole, but not necessarily for the individual members. This is what economists call a collective action problem. So what’s good for the conference isn’t what’s good for some (possibly most) members. This makes UH candidacy unlikely due to the fact that 8 out of 10 members need to be on board.
So if not Houston, then who should be invited, if any. While staying at 10 is always a possibility (maybe even inevitable), let’s explore expansion based on the lens of improving the recruitment of blue chip players to the Big XII conference as a whole while not hurting recruitment for existing institutions. Is it possible to find any candidate with a reasonable expectation of future recruiting success?
Fortunately, it turns out that recruiting is relatively stable. Sure the numbers fluctuate, but not all that much. Alex Kirchner has some helpful data from the past 5 years on where the top recruits play high school football. Texas (as you would expect) produces a huge amount of blue chippers along with California and Florida. The next two are Ohio and Georgia.
However, these recruits have options and as Bud says, "Geography matters in recruiting so much more than most want to admit, and the rough geographic center of the Big 12 (Oklahoma) is more than a 12-hour drive from Cincinnati or Tampa." So recruits want to play for a Power 5 university that is local AND want that Power 5 university to play in a conference that has local rivals.
Let’s take a look at what states produce blue chip recruits. I took the data from Alex’s piece and added a column that lists the number of Power 5 conference institutions and included Notre Dame. The reason is that more talent in an area will usually beget more successful football programs in the geographic area. There’s a correlation but it’s not perfect. I've excluded states that had zeroes across the board.
|Rank||State||2017||2016||2015||2014||2013||Power 5+1 Schools||5 yr Average||Recruits per School Avg|
My thesis is that the Big XII should target Universities with the potential to have great football programs even if they don’t have them now. Ideally you want programs that are successful now, but we can’t always get what we want. Plan B should be to expand to include Universities that are relatively close to the current Big XII geography AND are in an area rich with blue chip talent.
Lots of recruits are in Texas, California, and Florida. However, there’s also a lot of competition for those recruits in those states. By dividing by the Power 5 schools in a state, we reveal market inefficiencies. Adding another Texas team is splitting the existing Big XII recruit pie into smaller slices instead of expanding the pie. California is too far away and I would argue so is Florida although it may be manageable.
The big finding in this chart are the states of Louisiana and Ohio. University of Cincinnati keeps getting mentioned for a reason. Adding a University in Ohio takes advantage of the Ohio recruiting market inefficiencies. They could even play some of their games in Paul Brown Stadium (where the Bengals play) for OU/UT type teams.
What about Louisiana? Louisiana Tech and Louisiana-Monroe all seem substandard in size for a state school. The best case would be Tulane hiring Les Miles to recruit and make entertaining endings of football games. They could also play some of their games in an NFL stadium for high capacity crowds. However while I feel like that would be fun and all, sorry Tulane but the Big XII can do better.
One thing to point out is that Southern Louisiana and Northern Louisiana are culturally different. A school that could recruit in the Northern part of the state would win more recruiting battles against the school from Baton Rouge than another school from the Southern part of the state like Tulane.
I now nominate University of Memphis as the 12th member of the Big XII. Memphis plays their games in the Liberty Bowl and located smack dab in the middle of some the best recruits playing High School football year in and year out. It’s not a coincidence that they’ve been able to punch above their weight class on occasion. I think it’s reasonable to expect University of Memphis in the Big XII to exceed their already excellent recruiting and do so in a way that is not at the expense of current Big XII member institutions.
The city of Memphis is technically in Tennessee (rank 11) but is situated on the borders of Arkansas (rank 16), Mississippi (rank 15), and of course Louisiana (rank 3). Not all blue chip recruits can go to SEC schools. If Memphis was in a Power 5 conference, they would win more recruiting battles than they do today and they already recruit consistently higher than most non-Power 5 schools.
So my conclusion is the Big XII should invite the University of Cincinnati and University of Memphis to get back to 12. While UC is just on the edge of distance I want to get from the geographic center of the current Big XII (basically Oklahoma), it offers enough recruiting riches to be worth it. Adding University of Memphis checks a lot of boxes. UM has good football and men’s basketball programs (the money programs), they're located in area that is both close to the geographic center of the current Big XII, but not too close to eat into recruiting of existing member institutions. University of Memphis even comes with its own corporate sponsor in FedEx. Existing members get more money and no loss of recruiting talent. There’s no reason not invite these two. But this is the Big XII so I’m not expecting them to make smart decisions alas.