by John Furgele
There is a part of me that wished this never happened; that conference expansion, the lunacy that it became never happened. But, it did happen and because college football continues to grow in size and stature—sorry baseball, you’re number three now—it probably had to happen. America is in love with football for a myriad of reasons. The betting and the fantasy leagues are a major reason because football lends itself to gambling with things like the road underdog and the always exciting backdoor cover. Love it or not, football is the king, and one of the many reasons is that women like it. The best reason why football is so beloved is that it is once a week appointment television. Even with the days of the DVR, most Americans can make time on a Saturday or Sunday—or both—to watch at least one football game. The other sports—they never had a chance.
Americans love events and football is event television. You can watch a game on the weekend and then forget about the sport for five or six days. You can get things done like pay bills, pay attention to your kids and much more. It doesn’t require that daily commitment that the die-hard Yankee or Red Sox fan has to devote to.
The inaugural College Football Playoff has the sports world buzzing. Even with another NFL Sunday in the books, college football talk got its share of time on the sports talk shows. That’s how much we like football. Truth to be told, to me, Sundays are a letdown as the college football game is more exciting with more action and more unpredictability. The only drawback with the college game is the 20 minute halftime and the fact that most games take nearly four hours to complete.
Everybody is beating up the Big 12, but they played their hand and they came up empty, but it wasn’t the worst hand ever played. If Florida State would have lost, Baylor likely would have made the field; had Ohio State lost, both Baylor and Texas Christian would have made it in. As far away as they were, they were also that close to getting 50 percent of the CFP field.
All that said, it is time for the Big 12 to expand by at least two teams. The ACC has 14 schools (15 for basketball with Notre Dame), the Big Ten has 14, the SEC, 14, and the Pac 12 has—12. I think the committee in its own silent way was penalizing the Big 12 for being the only conference to not forge ahead and add more teams. There is still room for growth and many around college athletics think that someday, each conference will have 16 teams. The other conferences may not be mad at the Big 12, but when they not declined to expand, they sort of in a snarky way, thumbed their noses at those who did.
If the Big 12 had the right vision, they would take the University of Cincinnati and Brigham Young University. This would give them an east-west footprint. West Virginia would have their old eastern brother back and BYU, with 30,000 students and a national following would also help. And, both the Cougars and Bearcats would be formidable football and basketball schools. In Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure, the Cougars are 17-18 against Big 5 schools, far from dominating, but certainly representative and we already know that they are better than Kansas and Iowa State. They are also perennial participants in the NCAA basketball tournament and with the cache of the Big 12; their recruiting would no doubt improve.
Cincinnati would also fare well, too. With admittance to a Big 5 conference, they might be able to steal some kids that would normally choose Michigan, Ohio State or another Big Ten outfit. Cincinnati would also give the Big 12 some leverage in the Mideast, something that they really don’t have enough with only West Virginia. The Big Ten went east to New York/New Jersey with Rutgers and Washington DC with Maryland, so it behooves the Big 12 to do something similar. The Big Ten announced that it will play its 2017 postseason basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden in a further attempt to expand its brand. And, that’s what college athletics is all about these days; brand expansion.
If you’re a big state university that’s willing to spend money on new facilities, then the Big 5 conferences will be looking. The Big 12 may also want to look at Colorado State. There are plans for a $220 million on campus football stadium, so that could make the Rams appealing to not only the Big 12, but the Pac 12 as well. If the Pac 12 can have Arizona and Arizona State, why not Colorado-Colorado State? It wouldn’t hurt the Big 12 powers to study CSU.
Central Florida is another big public university and it already has a 45,000 on campus stadium. Is Orlando too far away from the core of the Big 12? Perhaps, but if you’re a major conference, having Florida in your league can’t hurt. In Florida, you can fall out of bed and find 150 to 250 Division 1 football recruits walking around.
Memphis would also not be a bad choice. The Tigers would elevate the basketball profile significantly, and under Justin Fuentes, the football program appears headed in the right direction. Having Memphis also dips into SEC country and with that conference being the best of the land, that’s another plus.
It is not an easy decision and it doesn’t have to be rushed, but the Big 12 should act sooner than later. BYU, Cincinnati, Central Florida, Memphis and Colorado State; yes that’s five schools for four or probably two spots and that’s a bit ambitious, but there will be more tweaking to the Big 5 in the future. Football is driving the bus, eventually Notre Dame will have to find a conference and for that matter, Army, too. I could see UCF landing in the ACC or even the SEC and it would shock no one if the Pac 12 had BYU on its radar. If Stanford, a private school can make headway in the Pac 12, BYU could too.
My hunch says Cincinnati and BYU are the top two targets for the Big 12 with Memphis and Colorado State not that far behind. UCF is the wild card because it gives you the Florida breeding ground, but one has to think that the SEC and ACC are all over the Knights. Perhaps nothing will happen, but the speculation sure is fun, isn’t it?