Report: Cincinnati, Houston, UCF Negotiating $17-20M Settlement to Join Big 12 in '23

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVMay 3, 2022

CINCINNATI, OHIO - NOVEMBER 20: Head coach Luke Fickell of the Cincinnati Bearcats reacts in the second quarter against the SMU Mustangs at Nippert Stadium on November 20, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are reportedly in talks with the American Athletic Conference about a settlement that would allow them to leave for the Big 12 in 2023 instead of 2024.

Brett McMurphy of the Action Network reported Tuesday the schools are discussing an agreement worth in the "$17 million to $20 million range" after AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco sought a $35 million early-exit fee.

Sources told McMurphy the three programs are "fully confident" a deal will be finalized this month.

A whirlwind of movement started last July when Oklahoma and Texas accepted offers to join the SEC no later than 2025, which jump-started a battle between the conferences to remain viable once the dust settled from the realignment.

Losing OU and UT, its two most valuable programs, led the Big 12 to seek an expansion to 14 teams that it will achieve with the addition of the three AAC schools and BYU, which will give up its independent status in football.

Now, with most of the conference changes having been agreed to, schools are beginning to seek early departures to avoid the multiyear wait times before the switch.

A fee of up to $20 million is no small thing. In November, Russ Heltman of Sports Illustrated noted Cincinnati spent $74 million on athletics during the 2020-21 school year. So, all other things being equal, adding the settlement on top would represent a 27 percent increase in spending.

The television deal is the equalizer, though. Cincinnati will go from $6 million per year from that revenue stream to $26 million annually following the Big 12 move, per Heltman.

In other words, the early-exit fee could pay for itself in year one and then turn into pure profit from that point forward.

Meanwhile, the timing of the AAC departures is going to have an impact on other changes.

There are six Conference USA programs waiting to join the AAC—Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UT San Antonio—and three other C-USA teams heading to the Sun Belt—Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss.

In turn, C-USA has added Jacksonville State, Liberty, New Mexico State and Sam Houston State with discussions to also bring in Eastern Kentucky and Tarleton State, though the latter discussions have been tabled for now, per McMurphy.

So, while the wheeling and dealing continues, college sports fans can expect a lot of new rivalries no later than 2025 and possibly as soon as 2023.