Big 12 Expansion: 10 Best Schools Conference Could Add

    There’s a lot of chatter around Cincinnati possibly joining the Big 12. What schools are the best options for the Big 12 if it chooses to expand?

    February 15, 2016

    There’s a lot of chatter around Cincinnati possibly joining the Big 12. What schools are the best options for Big 12 expansion?


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    1. Cincinnati

    TV Market: 34
    Geography: Decent, mainly because it creates a natural rival with West Virginia just 200 miles away.
    Student Population: 34,379

    Forbes 2015 Ranking of America’s Top Colleges: 381

    Is it really possible? The Big 12 is at least listening to the possibilities, and it makes sense without ruffling feathers – or taking a chance on missing – by trying to poach the ACC for teams. Cincinnati has a good enough combination of football and basketball, a solid TV market for the conference, and it opens up the recruiting area a bit into Ohio.

    With five Big East/American Athletic titles in the last eight years, the football program can come in with some teeth, bringing something a little different in terms of geography and fan base. The Big 12 missed out on Louisville – an even better natural fit – and now it has a shot at a school destined for the ACC soon if it’s not locked up now.

    2. Houston

    TV Market: 10
    Geography: Ideal in terms of fan bases and fit, it’s obviously just right for a potential Big 12 South with Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
    Student Population: 39.540

    Forbes 2015 Ranking of America’s Top Colleges: 358

    Is it really possible? For the fans, yes, for the Big 12 presidents, not so much. There are two ways to look at this.

    1) The Big 12 already owns Texas with Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU, and with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State close enough neighbors to form a quick and clean six-team division. The state is already carved up enough in the recruiting world, and it already has the TV markets it needs – the Big 12 brand isn’t improved nationally by bringing on Houston. Or …

    2) The Big 12 no longer has a monopoly on the state with Texas A&M now a part of the SEC and with LSU and Arkansas creeping in for recruits and attention. There are only 165 miles between Austin and Houston – Houston is still going to be into the Longhorns – but this is a big school with a large alumni base.

    3. BYU

    TV Market: 33
    Geography: Awful. It’s almost 1,000 miles away from Manhattan, Kansas and close to 1,300 miles from Austin, Texas. It doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense in terms of travel for the fan base.
    Student Population: 31,123

    Forbes 2015 Ranking of America’s Top Colleges: 104

    Is it really possible? It seems to depend on what day it is and which way the wind is blowing, and unlike most of the other schools on the list, this would be for football only. It might make sense from a prestige standpoint and in terms of getting a national team and international presence, but the Big 12 isn’t falling all over itself to sound interested. With the Big 12 not counting BYU as a non-conference game against a Power 5 team – Notre Dame is, by the way – it’s not like the league is paving the way for the possibility to make this quick and clean.

    4. Memphis

    TV Market: 48
    Geography: Good. It’s in between Morgantown, West Virginia and Austin, Texas. It might not be an easy drive, but in terms of a short flight, it’s manageable compared to the distance between Ames and Lubbock.
    Student Population: 21,480

    Forbes 2015 Ranking of America’s Top Colleges: 595

    Is it really possible? Not really, but the league could use another big city in the stable in case any sort of TV network comes around. Getting Memphis at least gets the Big 12 into SEC country and expands the brand a little bit, but would the move do anything to elicit more than a yawn? Memphis might have been a better get if the Big 12 had snagged Louisville a few years ago – that would’ve helped take care of the Cincinnati/southern Ohio and Indiana markets.

    5. UCF

    TV Market: 19
    Geography: It doesn’t make much sense, but who doesn’t want to travel to Orlando? Big 12 fan bases would make it a destination.
    Student Population: 59,589

    Forbes 2015 Ranking of America’s Top Colleges: 427

    Is it really possible? Not without South Florida along for the ride. The geography doesn’t work and the novelty would wear off relatively quickly, but it’s a massive school with a massive student population in the middle of a killer recruiting area. If the Big 12 decided to become the Big 14, then this might make more sense along with …

    6. South Florida

    TV Market: 13
    Geography: It’s a tough road trip for everyone in the Big 12, but it’s still Florida and it’s still Tampa. It might not be Orlando in terms of family fun, but it’s a whole lot more interesting than going to Manhattan, Kansas.
    Student Population: 41,428

    Forbes 2015 Ranking of America’s Top Colleges: 425

    Is it really possible? Like UCF, USF is another huge school with a large student population. It’s always been a football program with the potential to blow up to a whole other level with a little bit of luck and the right tweaks – a.k.a., a few top-flight recruiting classes – but the TV market works. However, this is still Florida, Florida State, and Miami country. It would take a little work to break into that.

    7. Northern Illinois

    TV Market: 135, Chicago 3rd
    Geography: Good if the Big 12 wants to make a bigger splash in Big Ten country. Close to 300 miles away from Ames, that would be the natural rival for the Huskies. More than that, it gets the interest of Chicago – maybe.
    Student Population: 21,138

    Forbes 2015 Ranking of America’s Top Colleges: 596

    Is it really possible? Give the program credit for thinking really, really big with a push to improve the facilities, but moving up into the Power 5 is nothing more than a dream. There need to be a few steps up the chain, like first going to the American Athletic or even Conference USA.

    On the surface, selling the idea of the Chicago market sort of works, but it’s not like Northwestern and Illinois are killing it in the area. It’s a Big Ten city with pockets of alumni coming in from the various schools, and there’s a rabid NIU fan base, but the attendance for Huskie games just isn’t there and – brutal honesty time – it’s a MAC program. Does bringing in NIU do anything for the Big 12 brand?

    8. Connecticut

    TV Market: 30
    Geography: Great for brand expansion and reach for a TV network, bad for absolutely everything else.
    Student Population: 25,911

    Forbes 2015 Ranking of America’s Top Colleges: 162

    Is it really possible? Probably more than you might think. It makes no sense whatsoever in terms of geography, and it does nothing at all for recruiting, but it would be great for basketball and the school is at least a time zone buddy for West Virginia. It’s 500 miles from Hartford to Morgantown – about half as far as it is from Iowa State to Texas Tech or Texas.

    The problem is a football program that doesn’t do anything for the Texas folks. There’s no history and it’s just not big enough. This would have to be a basketball grab, and that’s not good enough.

    9. Colorado State

    TV Market: 17
    Geography: Colorado State is right back in the middle of the old Big 8/Big 12 world that used to be occupied by Colorado. It would all work easily in terms of easing into the travel mix.
    Student Population: 31,186

    Forbes 2015 Ranking of America’s Top Colleges: 296

    Is it really possible? It is as long as BYU is aboard. If that happens, then the Big 12 will get more of a push in the Mountain Time Zone. However, how will it look having a next-best option in Denver to Colorado? Is Colorado State big enough of a school and a football program to add any pop to the conference? It makes geographic sense, but the cachet might not be there.

    10. UNLV

    TV Market: 40
    Geography: No, it doesn’t work, but it would be a strong destination spot for Big 12 fan bases. It’s about 900 miles away across two states from Lubbock.
    Student Population: 27,848

    Forbes 2015 Ranking of America’s Top Colleges: 539

    Is it really possible? Okay, so this is just total speculation, but it’s fun. Everyone else on this list has at least been rumored for the Big 12 at some point – UNLV hasn’t. However, with the potential of a $1.2 billion shiny stadium, and with a decent TV market and a splashy destination, this might quickly become an interesting dark-horse in any Big 12 expansion race.

    There’s no big-time football history, but the basketball aspect would be appealing and the time zone would be a plus. If it adds teams the Big 12 would likely make a move east, but if BYU is on the table, setting up camp in Las Vegas and all it brings could be a good gamble on greatness.

    MORE: 2016 Big 12 College Football Schedules

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