Big 12 Conference fans should come to terms with the fact that conference leaders — the university presidents — are going to add new members.
While there are no candidates that make me want to black out future dates on my calendar, it’s worth noting the four that seem to have picked up the most steam.
The University of Houston is at the top of the Texas list, primarily because of several hundreds of acres of land purchased by Texas Chancellor William McRaven in the city of Houston. Looks like Texas politics at its best. Texas is promising it will vote to add the Cougars, and legislators from Houston say they will allow the land purchase to go through if Houston is voted in so the state’s flagship can create a campus in the state’s largest city.
After Houston the picture isn’t quite as clear. Still, there’s reason to believe Cincinnati is number two on the list. The primary reason is because of its location, Ohio, and Cincinnati would be a travel partner for West Virginia. It would help the Mountaineers to have a team that’s closer because of travel costs. Besides Ohio has produced some outstanding home-grown athletes. And the conference having more visability there isn’t a bad thing. Former Texas Tech head football coach Tommy Tuberville is the coach of the Bearcats and its men’s basketball program won 22 games last year, so there’s quality in the two most important sports on any campus.
A strong possibility exists the Big 12 will add two football-only members if leaders want to go to 14 teams. One is quite obvious — BYU.
While that may seem strange, consider this — BYU’s affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes it difficult for the Cougars to play games on Sundays. That limits television networks’ ability to show games to fans. In short, it would be a scheduling nightmare for most sports except football.
The final candidate looks to be positioning itself as the most beautiful available. SMU, Tulane, Colorado State, Connecticut and Memphis are said to have reached out to the Big 12. But who is to say these universities would even want to be a football-only member? And maybe there’s a promise the conference will eventually add the other sports so that these schools are full-fledged members.
The thought of playing a football game in Connecticut does nothing for me. But the women’s basketball games would be entertaining.
SMU announced it would build a $150 million indoor/outdoor practice facility for its football team. That should show fans how serious the Mustangs are about getting the football team going. But would SMU still look pretty if football coach Chad Morris left? As a Texas A&M alum, his dream job is in College Station. There’s a belief that Kevin Sumlin’s seat remains hot. And the Aggies don’t like to go outside the family to make a hire. But knowing Texas A&M, they will want a more proven head coach since they believe they have a top 15 job in college football.
Tulane hired Georgia Southern head coach Willie Fritz as its head football coach in December. Fritz’s 193 career wins is tied with Kansas State’s Bill Snyder and is fourth on the list of active winningest coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Fritz inherits a team that went 3-9 last season. Not looking very promising here, huh? And don’t forget that its most promising team last year was baseball, which won the American Athletic Conference regular season championship. But head coach David Pierce resigned in June to take over at Texas.
Memphis had a standout 2015 thanks to posting a 9-4 record. The coach who led the Tigers to that record, Justin Fuente, accepted the job at Virginia Tech during the offseason. Memphis hired Mike Norvell, Arizona State’s deputy head coach and offensive coordinator. And the men’s basketball team wasn’t very good last year, posting a 19-15 record, 8-10 in the American Athletic Conference.
Colorado State hasn’t been relevant in football since Jim McElwain was there in 2014. Last year the Rams were third in the Mountain division of the Mountain West Conference thanks to a 5-3 record. They were 7-6 overall after losing the Arizona Bowl 28-23 to Nevada.
One sidenote — the most important number to remember here is eight, as in eight votes for a member to be added. So candidates willing to join the conference will agree to partial membership where they won’t get full revenue sharing until after a certain amount of time has passed. And most candidates will be happy with that because they want to be in a Power 5 conference badly. So receiving $5 million the first year is more than what they’re getting right now.
In short, the conference holds all the cards.
Conversations continue about how the divisions will be decided. But one that can be scratched off is that divisions will change each year based off records from the year before. Athletic departments don’t want to decide on divisions using records. Fans should get ready to have something close to a north and south where one division might be much stronger than the other during the regular season.
The conference expanding when there are no good candidates to add is crazy. But non-sports fans believe the loyalty, joy and pain fans feel when their teams are winning or losing also is nuts. So why not add new members, make more money and then see how television contracts pan out during the next series of negotiations in about eight years. To these university leaders, not cashing in now on the money for the next eight years is crazy.
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