It seems the Big 12 is in a hurry to expand. Earlier this week, rumors started swirling that the conference planned to announce their intentions regarding if they would expand, and with whom they would do so with, before the season began. With teams set to play as early as late August, that puts us about a month away from The Decision.
In the interest of full disclosure, and this may come as a shock to you, but I have zero insider knowledge or ability to sway the powers that be in any direction when it comes to expansion. That being said, I do have opinions, and a venue to share them in. So, hear me out, I think the Big 12 should expand. I think they should do so with four teams. And I think all four should be to the east of Texas.
My ideal scenario for Big 12 expansion is Tulane, Memphis, Cincinnati, and ECU.
If you're still reading, first of all, thanks! Second of all, I can't wait for your hot sports takes in the comments to tell me how very wrong I am. But, since you've already made it this far, might as well hear me out, right? So here's why I think the Big 12 should become the Big 14, and furthermore, why the above four schools are the perfect fit to solidify the conference and assure it has a viable future.
Geographic footprint is one of the biggest issues raised in expansion, mostly centering around the forever outlying WVU. By adding four teams that are all located east of the rest of the conference, you close the gap and give the Big 12 a reasonable landscape nationally.
I don't really have the time to put together maps for the other Power Five conferences, but you can see the Big 10 here, the Pac 12 here, the SEC here, and the ACC here. It's not all that much different!
Divisionally, you would have to get a little creative. If you try and divide them directionally straight up, you end up with a pretty unbalanced split, whether you go East/West or North/South. Assuming the new Big 12 follows the lead of the Pac 12 and plays nine conference games, giving them the leeway to build in the six inter-division games while allowing for a tradition cross-division matchup annually, it could break down something like this:
|Oklahoma and the East||Texas and the Leftovers|
You could easily build in the Red River Rivalry annually and keep the two traditional powers in opposite sides, which is probably considered preferable to the powers that be, ensuring they could conceivably meet in the title game. Keeping Kansas vs Kansas State on the docket could also be easily arranged, for the three people that care about it. Travel is a little lighter for the Texas division, with OU and OSU having to hit the far east every two years. But, from a competition standpoint, that's about as even as it gets, at least with the (probably wrong!) assumption that the teams will continue to perform at their current levels.
You could argue that having Tulane, Memphis, and Kansas all in one division is unfair to OU and OSU, who one could argue, have the tougher road to a title. Switching Kansas and Kansas State would be an easy enough fix if needed - or even OSU and Memphis, but possibly eliminate Bedlam or the Red River Rivalry as annual events. I am leaving it as is for the time being, because I think Kansas State will go back to struggling when/if Bill Snyder ever retires.
Strength of the Candidates:
There is no shortage of information available in regards to the football candidacy of every Big 12 wannabe, so I don't feel the need to go through stats or past seasons to make a case. The academic rankings have also been explored in detail. You have the internet, do some googling. I would rather look at some of the less traditional, but equally as important, factors.
We already outlined the geographic footprint of the new Big 12, and it makes a lot of sense from mapped perspective. So let's dive in to each individual city and see what they have to offer.
Cincinnati, OH: Not only the home of the infamous Skyline Chili, Cincy is a great metropolitan city with a wealth of resources. Additionally, the state of Ohio produces the fifth highest percentage of top football recruits, trailing only Florida, Texas, California, and Georgia. The Big 12 obviously already has Texas covered, and schools like TCU and Baylor have made great inroads to California. WVU recruits Florida well, as do Texas and Oklahoma, but Ohio is basically an untapped market for the mostly southern conference. Schools like Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State would especially benefit from the Big 12 planting a flag in Ohio.
With solid to strong basketball and football programs, top 100 academics, and an enrollment of over 40,000, UC fits the profile of what the Big 12 commissioner says the conference is looking for. It's also a beautiful campus in an underrated part of the country, and could become an ideal conference rival for the Mountaineers.
Oh, and TUBERVILLE BACK.
Greenville, NC: I have always said that if I didn't reside in Texas, North Carolina would be my home. This is definitely a heavily personal choice for me, but I don't think it's as odd an addition as most believe in a short look. ECU is actually a really great campus, with a strong medical component, in an amazing city. They have a solid, if not spectacular, football program that has developed a pretty impressive coaching tree.
Could you lure a Lincoln Riley back to a power five Pirates gig as the head coach if Scottie Montgomery struggles? Probably! Could ECU recruit Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama well? Absolutely. I just don't think it's quite as crazy as most do to think that the Pirates could be a competitive and positive addition to the Big 12/14.
The biggest argument against the Pirates is do we really need a third purple school in the conference?
Memphis, TN: Justin Timberlake wants them in:
Isn't that enough? No? What if I added a truck load of FedEx money to the equation? Still no? How about if we factor in that the Big 12 would now be THE definitive BBQ conference in the country, with Texas, Kansas City, North Carolina, and Memphis all represented? That should really be the defining characteristic of any great entity anyway.
One of the biggest question marks for the Tigers is if they can maintain their current trajectory despite Justin Fuente leaving for the greener pastures of the ACC and Paxton Lynch heading to the pros. Mike Norvell certainly has the chops to continue Memphis' rise, and is an exciting young coach to run the program. I don't think they will slink back into mediocrity, but will continue to trend upward towards double digit win seasons. Feel free to laugh at me when they go 3-9 this fall.
Memphis the city is also on the rise, and they have shown they will get behind a winning program. The Tigers, with a P5 backing and P5 money, could win. They have been making their way across campus with facilities improvements, including to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, which is already one of the larger facilities in the AAC, with capacity to host nearly 60,000 fans.
New Orleans, LA: Have you been to New Orleans?! Would you like to go at least once every few years? Hell yes, you would. Plus, Tulane easily fits the academic profile the conference is looking for. Sure, their football and basketball programs are on life support, but Willie Fritz is a known quantity that can certainly get them headed in the right direction on the gridiron, never mind the fact that Louisiana is one of the top ten most fertile recruiting grounds in the country. With TCU already well established in 'The Boot', other teams would gladly welcome a inroads to the state that produces the sixth highest percentage of blue chippers in the USA. And hey, they have a pretty good baseball team sometimes!
That's really all I have for Tulane. Outside of being located in one of the biggest party cities in the country, their athletics department is basically a disaster. But I don't think it's so far down that it can't be saved, or at least improved... enough.
While I would put the percentage of this happening at around 15%, I think it's worth giving serious thought by the Big 12 leadership. Going east could be advantageous for recruiting, fan bases, and conference stability as a whole. I believe that Cincinnati and ECU would assimilate quickly, and could easily reach WVU levels of success within their first four years as members. Tulane and Memphis have tougher climbs to league prominence, but there is enough in their favor to believe they could eventually at least out-class Kansas.
Is it the strongest conference in the country? No. But is the bottom of the new Big 12 much or any worse than the dregs of the ACC (Wake Forest, BC, Syracuse, and NC State went a combined 6-26 last season, and that was just in the Atlantic Division) or the SEC, who had five teams win two games or fewer in 2015? The Big 10, for comparison's sake, had seven teams with sub-500 conference marks in 2015, and the Pac 12 six. The Big 12 may arguably be more top heavy than any of those, other than the Big 10, but the competition isn't all that much different overall. And in the interest of fairness, the Big 12 had six of nine teams under .500 last season, though three of those teams won four of nine conference contests.
Ultimately, we will find out what the conference leaders are thinking over the course of the next month, and may even have answers prior to the start of the 2016 season. But until then, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments and tell me how terrible my ideas are!