Recent comments by Brigham Young head football coach Bronco Mendenhall stating “We would love to be in the Big 12,” has once again sparked conversations amongst fans of a possible Big 12 expansion in the near future. As appealing as this may sound to the folks in Provo, the Big 12 won’t be expanding in the near future.
So why won’t the Big 12 expand?
The Big 12 won’t be able to leverage the TV networks for more money.
At 38 million people across five states the Big 12 has by far the smallest footprint among the Power-Five (P5) conferences. The next smallest conference is the Pac-12 at 64 million people across six states. Despite this disadvantage the Big 12 has managed to keep its revenue on par with the rest of the P5 for a number of reasons.
During negotiations during their last TV contract, the Big 12 entered the room with the tables turned in their favor. FoxSports was preparing for the launch of its brand new channel called FS1, and was willing to shell out big bucks for college sports content. The Big 12 had yet to lose Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC when the bulk of negotiations had been completed.
As a result, the Big 12 emerged from those negotiations as victors walking away with a TV contract worth more than the actual value of the conference. In simple terms the Big 12 has an inflated contract. It is great for the conference as things stand now, but it prevents the Big 12 from using expansion to obtain another blockbuster TV contract. In order to obtain more money the Big 12 would first need to put some of its value into paying off that inflation. Fox example:
Scenario #1: Conference A produces $100 million worth of TV revenue but its TV contract pays just $90 million. Conference A then adds two new schools worth a combined $15 million in added TV revenue. Conference A negotiates with the TV network walking away with $15 million for the new schools plus the $10 million they were underpaid to begin with for a total of $25 million in additional payout.
Scenario #2: Conference B produces $90 million worth of TV revenue but its TV contract pays $100 million. Conference B then adds two new schools worth a combined $15 million in added TV revenue. Conference B then negotiates with the TV network getting $15 million for the new schools minus the $10 million they were overpaid by for a total of just $5 million in additional payout.
In 2012 the ACC found itself in a situation similar to scenario #1. After adding Notre Dame as a non-football member, the ACC managed to negotiate an increase in TV payout worth an astonishing $3 million per school. This was worth more than the value in which Notre Dame added to the conference. For the Big 12 their situation is more aligned with scenario #2 and it will continue to be a disadvantage for them down the road. This is not to say they can’t increase their TV payout via expansion, it will just be monumentally harder for them to do so compared to their counterparts in the other P5 conferences. This in turn makes expansion much less desirable for the Big 12 than the rest of the P5.
Ten teams is actually a blessing in disguise for the Big 12.
One of the struggles conferences face during realignment is successfully integrating the new schools with the old schools. Not doing this can cause animosity and/or resentment between members and even cause athletic teams to struggle.
For the Big 12 integration had always been a problem. The Texas schools and the Big Eight schools not from Oklahoma had very little historical connection with each other. The fatal flaw for the Big 12 was in order for them to preserve the historic rivalries among their membership; they had to split their schools into divisions that provided very little integration.
For those who are not familiar with the Big 12:
Big Eight schools: Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas state, Iowa State, Missouri, Oklahoma, & Oklahoma State.
Texas schools: Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, & Baylor.
Big 12 North schools: Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri & Iowa State.
Big 12 South schools: Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma, & Oklahoma State.
Schools such as Iowa State and Baylor could have developed a better connection had they played each other on a regular basis. But that never happened. Instead the Northern and Southern schools devolved an “us against them” mentality fueled by the realization that the Northern schools walked away from the divisional split at a disadvantage.
For the Big 12 North, having their historic rivalries with OU/OSU no longer being played on a yearly basis plus being featured in a division that had a disproportionate amount of population and high school recruits took its toll. The once great Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry never regained to its glory days in the Big Eight. The three strongest Big 12 North programs in the 90’s (CU, KSU, & NU) all suffered declines in their football programs within a couple of years after the formation of the Big 12.
All of these problems could have been avoided if the Big 12 had been a ten team conference with round robin play. Everyone would play each other in a season and thus develop a strong connection. Every school would also have had equal access to the luxurious population centers and recruiting hotspots that the conference had to offer. The simple fact is the Big 12 because of their demographical setup should never should have been a 12 team conference.
Texas politicians should never have gotten involved in the process. They should have simply allowed Texas and Texas A&M to join the conference on their own rather than forcing them to take Texas Tech and Baylor along with them.
So when the Big 12 lost a number of schools and found itself at ten teams these issues were naturally resolved. Conference realignment allowed the Big 12 to effectively push the reset button and start over again with a fresh slate. The Big 12 was gutted during realignment as it lost four public AAU schools with decent sized markets. But somehow the conference emerged from the crisis of 2010-2011 incredibly strong. No other conference could have rebounded from those losses as well as the Big 12. The reason why the Big 12 managed to do this is because they always should have been a ten team conference.
If the Big 12 did expand would it be BYU?
In terms of resources, athletics, and market size BYU is absolutely deserving of an invite to a P5 conference. However the problem with BYU and the Big 12 is that the two have very little in common. BYU’s fanbase and recruiting areas are located outside the Big 12 footprint. From 2011-2013 BYU did not receive a single commitment from a Texas recruit. The following map paints a pretty telling picture about the Mormon presence Big 12 footprint.
The amount of Mormons living in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia is not too different from the rest of the Eastern part of the country.
If BYU joined the Big 12 they would be a geographical and cultural outlier and follow a path similar to Colorado. The Big 12 already has one school that fits that description with West Virginia and will continue to be a problem for the conference going forward. If the Big 12 were to expand they would need to add schools in an Eastern direction to help West Virginia. Expanding in a Western direction would be counterproductive and needlessly create a second outlier.
As much as I would love to see more of this:
It will not be happening anytime soon.
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