The pros and cons of Big 12 expansion — among the topics of discussion at this week’s Big 12 meetings in Irving, which begin Tuesday — seem maddeningly complicated, but, in reality, they might be quite simplistic.
Texas and Oklahoma drive the bus, and they will get what they want. The others are basically along for the ride.
No matter how conferences realign down the road, the Longhorns and Sooners have the clout to sleep well at night, knowing they’ll always find a good home. Baylor, Kansas State, Iowa State and the rest just hope the Big 12 remains viable because it is likely their only ticket to Power Five relevance.
It is through that prism that we examine, alphabetically, every Big 12 school’s interest in expansion:
BAYLOR: Expansion is fine, if it’s the right schools
With Art Briles’ ouster, suddenly there are concerns about the football program, which has gone 50-15 over the last five years but was dreadful for 15 years before Briles arrived. Plus, the Bears have shamed the conference with their cover-up of the sex scandal. The basketball programs have been outstanding, yet Bears fans rarely fill the Ferrell Center.
Baylor, definitely pro-expansion, cannot afford to be picky. Considering their scheduling tendencies, the Bears probably prefer schools they’d dominate, like Colorado State and Memphis. There is rumored to be some ill will between Baylor and BYU, and the Bears recruit Houston heavily, so it’s unlikely they’d welcome either set of Cougars.
IOWA STATE: Location, location, location
Pound for pound, the Cyclones might have the best fan base in the Big 12. They ranked fourth in home football attendance and 33rd in the nation at 56,519. They are second to Kansas in men’s basketball attendance and top 30 nationally at just over 14,000.
What holds back Iowa State is location, surrounded by the Big Ten and needing to travel far and wide for recruits.
Iowa State, thought to be pro-expansion, might be best served if the Big 12 invited Central Florida and South Florida to open a bigger window to the Sunshine State.
KANSAS: Basketball power, football conference
The Jayhawks are in the odd position of being the league’s flagship national basketball program, yet lacking a hammer in realignment discussions because these are mostly about football. And KU is terrible in football.
Kansas could use some schools it might compete with in football — UConn and Memphis come to mind. But KU more likely will take the high road and look hard at academics and overall program strength. The Jayhawks could use another recruiting trip to Texas, so maybe Houston would be appealing.
KANSAS STATE: Small fish seeks other small fish
Both Kansas schools are thought to favor expansion, with the approach that if the Big 12 isn’t gaining teams, it’s losing ground. You worry about the Wildcats after 76-year-old Bill Snyder hangs up the clipboard for good.
The Little Apple is one of the league’s more remote outposts, and K-State has the smallest athletic budget among the Big 12’s eight public schools. It’s only 540 miles to Colorado State and 570 to Memphis. Cincinnati and Houston are 700 or so miles away, which isn’t too bad.
OKLAHOMA: Quality over quantity
Sooners president David Boren was pro expansion, then pulled back after key regents pointed out the potential candidates are mostly B- material. BYU is the exception, and some insiders suggest OU would be good with the Cougars, who have Power Five facilities and a fan base that would trail only OU and Texas. Boren has publicly praised Cincinnati.
The Sooners wield a big stick, and they’ve got to be convinced there are two schools available who bring added value. But where, besides maybe BYU? LSU and Arkansas aren’t bolting the SEC. Florida State and Clemson won’t jettison the ACC. And Texas A&M and Missouri aren’t coming home.
OKLAHOMA STATE: As the Sooners go, so do the Cowboys
T. Boone Pickens has done wonders for the program, donating oil money hand over fist. The Cowboys’ athletic budget of $93 million is just outside the top 25 nationally and No. 3 in the Big 12.
Yet no matter how much good Pickens has done for his school and Mike Gundy to elevate the football program, OSU will always try to be tethered to its rival in Norman. The Cowboys follow the Sooners’ lead. For starters, it’s doubtful Team Oklahoma wants another Texas school. Sorry, Houston.
TCU: Following Texas’ lead
The Horned Frogs are the smallest school in the league by a wide margin — 10,323 enrollment to Baylor’s 16,787. The Frogs also are eternally grateful to the Longhorns for pushing through their Big 12 candidacy in 2012. Which is to say TCU almost assuredly will vote with Texas.
TCU has done a terrific job in football and baseball and enhanced the league’s image. If there is expansion, the Frogs might enjoy renewing Mountain West rivalries with any combination of BYU, Boise State or Colorado State.
TEXAS: All options are on the table
Without raiding Power Five leagues of top teams, it’s difficult to find the Longhorns’ motivation for expanding. They already have a license to print money, with their own branding network and marquee status (never mind the football and baseball results).
BYU, with its national name, should intrigue Texas. Maybe the Longhorns could even find a way to beat the Cougars if they played every year. Otherwise, where? Central Florida, maybe, because it’s a sleeping giant in a hot locale?
Funny thing about the Horns: While they fancy themselves as the big fish in a big pond, they’ve never wanted to dive into the deep waters of the SEC. Those in high places see Texas as a better fit for the Big Ten.
TEXAS TECH: Watching the travel costs
Despite the 373 miles between Austin and Lubbock, the Red Raiders have been closely aligned with Texas for a long time. They plan to stay that way and likely are part of a three-school voting block with TCU. Tech is the Big 12’s second largest school with 35,893 students, though its athletic budget lags a bit at No. 6.
Geographically and financially, Tech probably would like a Western partner. On the flip side, the Florida schools (UCF and USF) would be nearly 1,500 miles and Connecticut pushing 2,000 miles. Those are budget busters.
WEST VIRGINIA: Cincinnati, UConn top the wishlist
School president Gordon Gee is vocal in his expansion advocacy, even personally touring several schools. There’s no doubt the Mountaineers want a bigger league with two divisions. There’s also no debate about their favorites. No. 1 is Cincinnati, which would reunite old Big East rivals and allow fans a 300-mile drive to see games. No. 2 is UConn.
WVU also recruits heavily in Florida, so adding UCF or USF, with Cincinnati, would be a winning ticket. On the flip side, it is 1,928 miles to BYU. The Mountaineers prefer the Appalachians, not the Rockies.