The race to join the Big 12, I wish

By Harrison March:

We’re right on the cusp of college football history being made on New Years Day.

We know the matchups. We know what’s at stake for the nation’s top four teams. We’ll never know, however, what could have been for two of the nation’s most explosive offenses – Baylor and TCU – if they had made the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The Two True Champions™ of the Big 12 were perhaps doomed by their status of Co-Champions after both teams finished the year 11-1, even though Baylor knocked off TCU with a last-second field goal in the head-to-head matchup.

Being the only Power 5 conference without a championship to crown its football kings, could the Big 12 have avoided the snub if it had pitted the Bears and Horned Frogs against one another so it had a champion to present to the selection committee? I say yes.

Would they have? Maybe not after that Buckeye drubbing of Wisconsin (which I believe will we someday learn to be a fix set up by the Big Ten). But it certainly wouldn’t have hurt the Big 12’s case.

To develop a championship game, first we need two division. North and South, East and West, Haves and Have Nots, it doesn’t matter. Take me back to the days when the Big 12 had two six-team divisions and a battle for the football crown on the final week of the season.

That being said, I would like to formally announce the following candidacies to join the Big 12 Conference:

Brigham Young University

Location: Provo, Utah

Enrollment: 29,672

Mascot: Stormin Mormons Cougars

Why: BYU has a national following, though that’s more the product of its religious affiliation than its athletic prestige. The football program is one of four FBS Independents (joined by Navy, Notre Dame and Army) and was thought of as having a good shot at an undefeated season until star QB Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending broken leg in just the fifth game of the year. The basketball program has featured one of the NCAA’s best offenses over the last few years and is usually a force to be reckoned with at home – just ask last year’s ISU basketball team. Strong teams in the money-making sports never hurts. Not to mention its volleyball team just playing in the NCAA title match a couple weeks ago.

Why not: Last time it added teams, the Big 12 went east to nab West Virginia. The addition of BYU would make ‘Big 12 Country’ even more spread out, while other opportunities to the east may be more viable with regards to travelling and geography. Provo also doesn’t provide much sex appeal for media markets (it’s that short-sleeve, white button-up shirt with conservative colored tie look). Adding BYU would bolster the conference’s strength, but in a money-driven business, may not be worth the financial investment.

University of Cincinnati

Location: Yep, you guessed it

Enrollment: 43,651

Mascot: Bearcats

Why: Where BYU lacks exposure, Cincinnati gets the job done. While it’s not even the biggest market in Ohio (see: Columbus, Cleveland), it is a city with a population approaching 300,000. Ohio high school football is traditionally among the best states for recruiting and picking up a school from Ohio would let the Big Ten know you’re still making moves, too. The basketball program, while not a powerhouse by any stretch, has improved its win total from the previous season in 5-of-7 seasons under Mick Cronin and made the Sweet 16 a few years back.

Why not: The football team wins games, evidenced by this year’s 9-4 record, but went 0-3 against Power 5 teams (Ohio State, Miami and Virginia Tech). Nine-win seasons would be significantly harder to come by in the Big 12 than the AAC, and the Bearcats may quickly become a mid-to-lower level team. Cincinnati is also doomed to ‘little brother’ status to the Buckeyes that sit 100 miles north on I-71. It would take an unimaginable amount of good Bearcat fortune to surpass Ohio State in popularity. Can Cincinnati find continued success or will Ohio State’s prestige create a shatterproof ceiling?

University of Louisville

Location: Also not hard to figure out

Enrollment: 15,957

Mascot: Cardinals

Why: The Big 12 is already stacked in basketball, but the addition of Rick Pitino’s squad would make it flat out ridiculous. There would be potential for four top-ten teams (Iowa State, Kansas, Louisville and Texas) that would make the Big 12 like the SEC West of basketball. The football program his risen to top-25 status, in large part thanks to one Theodore Bridgewater. Picking up a Kentucky-based school does what adding Cincinnati would do to the Big Ten: lets the SEC know you’re here and ready to fight for some of its media market.

Why not: I’ll do this through the eyes of Louisville instead of what it would mean for the Big 12. Last time the Big 12 expanded, it could have easily invited Louisville along with West Virginia and TCU or in place of one of them. The conference passed for what was thought to be financial reasons, and Louisville went on to win the NCAA tournament and a BCS bowl game while representing the ACC that year (becoming just the third program ever to do so after Florida and Kansas). The Big 12 passed on Louisville before and the Cardinals found historic success the next year. If the Big 12 came knocking, would Louisville have too hard of feelings to even open the door?

Side note – While the increased basketball strength of schedule would help perception, the likely losses that result would do the opposite. Why leave a situation where you’re already a consistent top-5 team for one where that becomes much, much more difficult to accomplish.

Colorado State University

Location: Fort Collins, Colorado

Enrollment: 31,725

Mascot: Rams

Why: Larry Eustachy. Need I say more? Yes? Oh, okay. The Rams have football and basketball programs on the rise, as the football team put up a 10-3 record this year and the men’s basketball team remains No. 24 in the nation with a 13-0 mark. Maintaining that success, however, will be difficult without the services of head coach Jim McElwain, who bolted for the Florida gig. As long as the win total doesn’t dip below .500 – which shouldn’t be too tough in the Mountain West – the program will still be heading in the right direction. Though I knocked on BYU being too far west earlier, Fort Collins isn’t any further then Colorado was when it was in the Big 12.

Why not: Being on the rise shows promise, but also means it still has to prove itself to gain a ‘mainstay’ status. Prematurely bringing in the Rams and watching them crumble under the increased level of competition helps nobody. The football team also lacks an on-campus stadium, which creates a perception issue. The Rams’ home games are played at Hughes Stadium, which is only a few miles west of campus, but plans to build an on-campus stadium were approved in early December, so it should only be a couple of years before that problem is remedied.

What I’d like to see

The Big 12 needs 12 teams, which would allow for the football teams to play each of the other five teams in their division and put the halves of the other division on a rotation, just like the good old days. “But Harrison,” you say, “that’s only eight conference games per season!” Yes, it is. But who cares? Mandate teams to schedule a Power 5 opponent or two in the nonconference or something like that.

As much as I’d like to add BYU and Louisville because of my affinity for NCAA basketball, going that far west for a less-than-exciting media market doesn’t make enough fiscal sense for the Big 12. I think BYU would be more likely to join than Louisville, but give me the latter and Cincinnati as the 11th and 12th members of the Big 12 Conference. Your possible divisions, then: Big 12 North: Cincinnati, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Louisville and West Virginia; the Big 12 South: Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU and Texas Tech.

Welcome to the Big 12, Bearcats and Cardinals. We’re happy to have you.

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