The Big 12 is on the ropes right now as it fights for its conference life. “If Nebraska leaves, this conference is dead,” said an anonymous high-ranking Big 12 executive. There are reports all over the news confirming this, with talks of half the conference jumping ship to the Pac 10.
The remaining teams in the Big 12 need to act quickly if they have any hope at salvaging the battered conference. Rumors already swirl of talks including BYU and Air Force, but it will take more than that to keep the conference together.
The Big 12 has options for teams to add, but the respect of the conference will take a hit with Oklahoma and Texas heading west to the Pac 10. Even if the conference adds some new members, it still might not be enough to compete with the images and revenues of the “super-conferences”.
For several season, the non-BCS teams have said they want a legitimate shot at the BCS title. With all the expansion going on, they should get their chance. Well, that is if the Big 12 stays together. Many of these BCS busters are a perfect fit regionally to be absorbed right into the Big 12, potentially saving the conference.
The Big 12’s likely remaining members are Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor, and possibly Missouri. If Missouri leaves, that will be eight teams the conference is down. Could the conference add eight teams? Yes, but they probably won’t.
Here is a look at the possible candidates for a conference desperate to stay afloat.
TCU: The Horned Frogs are in Ft. Worth, right next to Dallas. This was right in the middle of former Big 12 country and will be a large market, something the conference desperately needs. TCU has been dominant in the MWC over the past few seasons and can become an instant contender in the conference.
BYU: The Cougars are very similar to TCU as far as talent level for football. They would be a very good add, and in fact have already been asked if they would be interested in joining the conference. They don’t bring much of a market for additional revenues, but will help maintain the respect of the conference.
Utah: The Utes already have shown some worth on the big stage of the BCS when they knocked off Alabama. They could be part of the four-team sweep as the Big 12 raids the Mountain West.
Boise State: The Broncos have almost become a staple in the BCS over these past five seasons. They bring a lot to the table in football, but not in much else. They are improving their academics but still have some work to do. The Big 12 needs the publicity and Boise State would provide that, making this a possible option.
Air Force: This is the second team the Big 12 is looking at officially adding. Regionally it makes sense and the Falcons bring some very respectable academic standards with them. They have been very competitive athletically and would be a decent addition to begin rebuilding the conference’s respectability.
Houston: The Cougars would jump at the chance to join the Big 12 and they would bring the Houston market with them. This would help solidify the state of Texas, along with adding TCU, and help keep the conference relevant as far as media exposure goes. Houston has been very good in Conference USA and could compete in the new Big 12, but not with the same success it’s recently had.
Notre Dame: If the Irish want to be stubborn with the Big Ten they will be left out in the cold as far as joining a conference. The Big 12 may be the only option at that point if the ACC/Big East declines them as well. The Irish bring academics, revenue, and tradition to the table. Would this be a likely addition? Probably not. But it should not be overlooked.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats may not be an automatic addition into the new ACC/Big East merger. They have good academics and a decent athletic program, but the football stadium is small and Ohio State still controls most of the state of Ohio’s revenue. Adding Cincinnati would expand the existing footprint of the struggling conference, increasing its exposure.
If the Big 12 is going to survive with its new members, conference revenue and exposure are going to be huge factors. Adding cities like Houston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, and possibly Cincinnati would be a necessity for the conference's livelihood.
The Big 12 currently has many of its games covered on ESPN and the Versus network, but with the conference splitting in half, it is very likely that Versus would cover mostly Pac 10 games. This is something Versus regularly does anyways, and with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma, that coverage would be largely focused on the Pac 10.
Bringing in a TV deal for the conference with either ESPN, Versus, or starting a Big 12 Network would be another conference necessity. The “super-conferences” will have a leg up on TV coverage, but the conference will have to at least attempt to get a contract to keep up if it has a chance at surviving.
The remaining Big 12 teams will have their work cut out in order to survive the exodus of half of the original conference’s teams. The problem is three-fold in that it needs to add multiple teams, increase the conference footprint in doing so, and increase media exposure. All three problems will have challenges, and all the problems will have to be conquered if the conference has a chance to survive.