When the Big 12 concluded their meetings ten days ago no decision had been made on whether the conference was going to expand. It was disappointing, but not unexpected, as the conference seems genuinely torn on how to move forward. David Boren and Gordon Gee, presidents of Oklahoma and West Virginia, respectively, have both been vocal proponents for expansion, while others, like Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, don't seem interested in expansion.
This split hasn't stopped some schools from courting the Big 12, and recent reports from the Cincinnati Enquirer indicate that the University of Cincinnati might be trying harder than all the rest.
According to documents obtained by the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati president Santa Ono has had conversations with Boren where the OU president expressed his support for Cincy's entry into the Big 12. Ono has also been to Austin to meet with then-president of Texas Bill Powers, as well as to Manhattan, KS to meet with the Wildcats' President and Assistant Vice President.
Cincinnati has also put together quite a bit of research to present to the Big 12 as well, according to the same report. they called upon Pacey Research to put together a report that compares Cincinnati's current state of affairs to that of the ten Big 12 schools.
Pacey’s research, completed in late 2014, looked at athletic budgets, football and basketball success, academics and TV market size. UC’s annual athletics budget ($27.7 million in 2015) would be the lowest in the Big 12, but Pacey pointed out that would be expected to increase in a conference where the athletic department could make more money.
If UC joined the Big 12, it would put the conference in Ohio, a state with 4.5 million TV households, according to Pacey research. Only Texas – where four Big 12 schools are based – has more TV households among states where the conference has members.
A separate report, also from the Cincinnati Enquirer, notes that Ono has met with every Big 12 president.
Ono has been a busy guy over the last 14 or 15 months. He has championed the restaurants of Austin, TX, and made personal visits to every Big 12 president.
Of course, a big factor for Cincinnati would be the television dollars. In the second report (linked above), it notes that Cincinnati would see about a $20 million increase in revenue, from a combination of TV, NCAA Tournament, and Bowl game dollars.
Thee are three questions then, that need to be addressed.
How would bringing Cincinnati into the Big 12 affect the revenue being brought in by the current ten institutions?
Jason Kirk, from the SB Nation mothership, noted back in June of 2015 that Bob Bowlsby confirmed the Big 12's TV contracts with ESPN and FOX would expand with any additional members joining the conference. Essentially, new members wouldn't affect any current Big 12 school's TV revenue (about $20 million/year per school).
The place where things would be affected would be in split payouts from things like the NCAA Tournament, College Football Playoffs, and bowl games. According to Kirk, each Big 12 school received $6.4 million as their piece of the Playoff share. 12 teams would have reduced that number to $5.4 million.
For NCAA Tournament payouts, which are based on participation and wins, the Big 12 receives about $20 million dollars, giving $2 million to each school. That would fall to around $1.67 million if two more schools joined the conference. Combine that with the decrease in Playoff dollars, and each school would lose about $1.3 million per season.
Adding two more teams would also push the conference to add a conference championship game, a game that could net the Big 12 around $20 million according to Kirk, immediately offsetting the $1.67 million lost by each current Big 12 institution.
Plus, when you consider the fact that Cincinnati's football and basketball teams have made a bowl game/ the NCAA Tournament the past five years, the Big 12 could see a small boost in the dollars it receives from the bowls/NCAA Tournament, should the Bearcats continue to qualify on a regular basis.
So, ultimately, Kirk concludes that the Big 12 would just about break even, if not come out slightly ahead, should Cincinnati move to the Big 12.
Is Cincinnati an ideal fit in the Big 12?
As one of the two Enquirer articles noted above points out, Cincinnati would bring the Ohio market (about 4.5 million TV sets) into play for the conference. They've made five consecutive bowl games, and they've made five consecutive NCAA appearances. Personally, I think their basketball team would transition to the Big 12 better than their football team, at least initially, but transitioning to a tougher conference can be done (see: TCU, Utah, Louisville).
Cincinnati would also be reunited with former Big East bunkmate West Virginia, and would be by far the closest school to the Mountaineers.
Is the Big 12 going to make another near Louisville-sized mistake in saying "no thanks" to Cincinnati?
The Big 12 has found itself in a situation somewhat similar to 2013, where expansion talk seemed to be bubbling up, and a handful of schools were rumored to be interested in joining the conference. Of course, in 20111-12, the leader in the clubhouse to join the Big 12 ranks was Louisville, and the Big 12 kindly said "we're good."
That, in my opinion, was a gigantic mistake. Louisville make the Big 12 look silly, as they would go on to win the Sugar Bowl over Florida, and a basketball National Championship, while their baseball team made it to the College World Series. The Cardinals' stock was at an all-time high, and could have delivered a big jolt to the league from a competition standpoint.
Not to mention, Louisville was (and still is) a Top 50 TV market in the US (comparable to Austin), their alumni base was (and still is) 134,000+ strong, and their athletic budget was around $77 million, according to the New York Times.
Cincinnati's TV market is currently the 34th largest market in the country, three spots behind Kansas City and 11 spots ahead of Oklahoma City. The Bearcats' alumni website claims that there are over 285,000 living alumni. While Cincinnati isn't where Louisville was athletically in 2013, five consecutive bowl appearances and three conference championships since 2011 (never finishing worse than third) isn't something to scoff at.
Plus, their basketball team has won 20+ games every season since the 2010-11 campaign, and is currently one win away from extending that streak to six seasons. And, as mentioned above, they've reached the NCAA Tournament five consecutive times.
While it won't happen soon, if and when the time comes, I think the Bearcats should get the nod.