Who is most likely to become new rivals to the Longhorns and the Cowboys?
Of all the Automatic Qualifying Leagues in the BCS, no other league is going to be dealing with expansion rumors more than the Big-12 throughout 2011. While the deal Commissioner Dan Beebe put together last June to hold onto Texas and keep the league intact despite the destabilizing loss of Nebraska to the Big-Ten and Colorado’s move to the PAC-12, sooner or later a 10 institution league with no Conference Championship Game is going to find itself at a huge disadvantage when final BCS polls are released after the first December weekend placing the best teams in the Grand Finale a month or so later.
Unlike the SEC, Big-Ten and now the PAC-12, the Big-12 is at a huge disadvantage with respects to its TV deals, particularly the one that runs through 2016 with ESPN. Schools such as Texas want to exploit their brand at a higher profile against their smaller league partners further north in places like Ames, Iowa or Manhattan, Kansas and put together their own TV deal in addition to what the league can negotiate. Additionally Oklahoma and Texas A&M are reportedly exploring their options for their own TV channels/networks. With this instability on the table and resentment from smaller schools, this has been harder in many ways to hold together than Mikhail Gorbachev holding the Soviet Union together 2 decades ago.
With NO PARTICULAR ORDER let’s put the facts on the table on who the Big-12 should try to invite should these individual TV deals be finalized and the overall league structure stabilize enough to explore making the Big-12 brand on the same level as the Big-Ten and the SEC where it has historically been throughout the history of the BCS era of college football.
BYU was looked at by the Big-12 back in 1993 when the league was formed
BYU: Brigham Young University was initially invited to the table by the Big-8 presidents and Texas/Texas A&M in 1993 when they were discussing league formation as the Big-8 was looking to improve their TV market position and the SWC was falling apart. But in part due to concerns in their governing Latter-day Saint Church headquarters over potential impacts to other in-state schools (Utah at that time was not competitive with BYU or any other front-line league school in the PAC-10 or Big-8/SWC), BYU was relegated to remaining in the WAC. But many today have always looked at BYU as being a good replacement or expansion institution should there be any seismic shifts as was the case this past year. While the loss of Colorado has made BYU a geographical outlier to the Big-12 (adding another Rocky Mountain States partner to Colorado was part of the initial interest in BYU nearly 2 decades ago), BYU remains the most solid non-AQ affiliated program any BCS league could invite at this point since they bring a substantial alumni base, football attendance averaging over 60,000+ per game and an athletic budget that exceeds many current BCS schools. BYU is also the leading brand in the Salt Lake City TV market (Spot DMA #31). BYU has used this position as well as their national interest via the LDS Church to put together their own deal with ESPN, and has had a BYU Channel on most cable and Satellite TV networks for over 10 years giving them a huge advantage in this for an individual school.
Academically speaking BYU brings a substantially large undergraduate student body that any AAU affiliated school will envy, professional Business and Law programs that constantly rank in the top tier of U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings of U.S. Colleges and Universities. BYU has over 75 Masters level programs, but is classified as being more “PhD light” than some of the more AAU dominated leagues like the PAC-12 or Big-Ten, since at present they only offer 25 doctoral level programs. Highly DESIRED
Arkansas is closer to 5 Big-12 schools in geographical proximity than their 2 nearest SEC rivals
Arkansas: Being located in Fayetteville in the northwestern part of the state places Arkansas in better geographical proximity to the core northern division Big-12 schools (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State & Missouri) than their nearest SEC present day rivals in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (LSU) or Oxford, Mississippi (Ole Miss). Their long history in the SWC prior to 1991 also makes Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor long standing rivals from a not so long ago era. But unless Arkansas can negotiate their own TV deal similar to Texas and BYU thus far, the odds of them accepting an offer to a better “geographical fit” will likely not materialize, given the stability and money they would be leaving in the SEC. As Sports Illustrated College Football beat writer Stewart Mandel put it; “Only Notre Dame could walk away from that sort of money and make it work.” But look for an expanding Big-12 to at least make the Razorbacks an offer, but for it to be one they couldn’t refuse it would have to be more money each year than what they could get by staying in the SEC. Highly DESIRED
TCU however bring very little new viewership to the Big-12 despite a highly steller football program
TCU: Having recently accepted an offer to join the Big-EAST, there is little doubt that the administration at the Fort Worth school knew there were too many negative votes and that the Horned Frogs ranked well behind the likes of BYU for the better regional fit league. While putting together a VERY competitive program over the past decade, TCU however brings nothing to the Big-12 for TV numbers since the Dallas/Fort Worth TV market is already overly saturated with Texas, Texas A&M and even Oklahoma fans well in front of the smaller student body and alumni base TCU has to offer. TCU is also looked at to some extent by some as a partner in crime with SMU in the corruption that eventually destroyed the Southwest Conference 2 decades ago which also works heavily against them. Moderately Desirable
An NCAA capitol sentence over 2 decades ago will likely keep SMU out of any BCS-AQ league
SMU: While offering a very wealthy alumni base, the Mustangs as I pointed out above are looked upon as being the corruption that destroyed the SWC. But like TCU while wealthy, their student body and alumni base is very small compared to larger religious schools like Baylor or BYU. The capitol sentence handed down by the NCAA to the SMU program 2 decades ago clearly pulled them off the college football map they so prominently occupied during the Eric Dickerson, Craig James era 3 decades ago. Undesirable
Despite strong political connections in Austin, the Houston Cougars are the #2 desired Cougars in the Big-12
Houston: While an aspiring research school with strong political connections in the Texas legislature, Houston was the final addition to the SWC in 1976, but is classified more as a commuter school than having large on-campus student communities like most Big-12 institutions are known for. Like TCU and SMU, Houston does very little in a market that is highly dominated by larger more powerful institutions in Austin and College Station. Slightly Desirable
Memphis is fortunate to be in C-USA as opposed to the Sun-Belt or MAC
Memphis: Like Houston, this is a commuter school that offers very little to the Big-12 other than a football program that is more suitable for the Sun-Belt, MAC or WAC and a basketball program that resembles UNLV back in the 1970s and 1980s under Jerry Tarkanian. Highly Undesirable
Catching a pass into a BCS-AQ league will be a tough challenge for Boise State academically speaking.
Boise State: The Broncos are still a very new program to FBS being only 15 years removed from competing in the FCS Big Sky Conference until 1996. While many like Boise State and their ability to put one of the most competitive non-AQ programs on the FBS field in recent years, this is an institution that sadly due to Idaho politics is very immature academically and many look upon as being a glorified 4 year community college with few if any post-graduate programs. This by many accounts hurts Boise State more than the religious stigma hurts BYU in moving into a larger AQ league alignment. Potentially Desirable…but probably in a decade or so from now as it becomes more mature.