Why the Big 12 Should Add USF/UCF if They Were Forced to Expand

ucf vs usf
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Author’s Note: This is a two part article detailing who the Big 12 should add if they were forced to expand to 12 teams. This is part two which discusses why South Florida and Central Florida are the best expansion candidates for the Big 12. Part one discusses why the Big 12 shouldn’t add Cincinnati and why the Big 12/WVU would be better served by adding schools who fit in with WVU’s historical recruiting grounds.

West Virginia (WVU) traditionally has maintained a strong recruiting presence in Florida. Over the years the Mountaineers have had success recruiting talented players from the state such as Geno Smith. Their recruiting foothold in Florida was a big reason for the Mountaineers success prior to joining the Big 12.

One of the biggest misconceptions about Texas recruiting is that it is an easy state to recruit. Big 12 fans have frequently cited the notion that any school in their conference can easily establish a recruiting foothold in Texas thanks to the “Texas access” the conference offers. I have seen it said countless times before WVU made the move to the Big 12, that they would see the recruiting benefits of playing in a Texas based conference and WVU fans have no need to worry.

That notion is completely false.

Yes, Texas is a huge recruiting state that is comparable only to California and Florida. However California and Florida are known for providing pipelines to schools of considerable distance, Texas is not. Nearly every school in the West has some sort of recruiting presence in California. In the East there are a number of schools in the Northeast and Midwest that have a recruiting presence in Florida.

West Virginia with their Florida recruiting presence is just one example of this. In fact, the majority of schools in the (old) Big East conference had some sort of Florida recruiting presence (including Cincinnati).  The radius of the Texas recruiting presence outside the state of Texas is considerably smaller than the radius of the recruiting presences outside the states of California and Florida.

There is no single reason for why this is, but it is reflective in a number of recruiting trends. The non-Texas Big 12 schools clearly receive recruiting benefits in Texas due to their Big 12 membership, however those benefits depend heavily on proximity to Texas as well.

You can see this trend even with Iowa State (ISU), the furthest Big 12 school from Texas after WVU. In the Cyclones six recruiting classes from 2008-2013, they landed more Texas recruits than Florida recruits in only once. In 2011, ISU had just one more Texas recruit than a Florida recruit. Their 2014 class was the first time in seven years that ISU had a considerable more amount of Texas recruits than Florida recruits.

In their last two recruiting classes West Virginia had only one Texas recruit in each class. WVU will still be able to have some form of a Florida recruiting presence even if the Big 12 doesn’t add a pair of Florida schools, but why shouldn’t the Big 12 invest in something that is already proven to work for WVU? Going into Florida will allow WVU to maximize their greatest asset. But as I stated earlier, the Big 12 shouldn’t make additions for the benefit of just one school. With Florida recruiting, the whole conference can capitalize on the luxurious recruiting grounds that the state of Florida has to offer and is why USF/UCF are two fantastic additions.

Florida is a terrific recruiting state. The following graph shows the recruiting breakdown for Texas and Florida.

texas and florida recruiting graph
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Texas has a slight advantage in total prospects, however Florida is clearly the most talent rich state in the nation. And the best part about it, they are a very easy recruiting territory to build a pipeline into to.

The beauty of this theory is that there already is an example of this to prove it will work. In their final years as members of the Big 12, Missouri had a strong pipeline into Texas with little to no presence in Florida. However, that Texas pipeline was soon lost with the move to the SEC. Missouri responded by quickly establishing a new pipeline to Florida that is already bringing Missouri (MU) as many Florida recruits as Texas recruits the Tigers typically landed as a Big 12 members. The success MU had in Florida can be attributed to the simple fact that Florida is an incredibly easy market for schools to penetrate and build a pipeline.

If MU can accomplish this so easily, then it is safe to say that other Big 12 schools can do the same. This doesn’t mean that the Big 12 schools will have to forfeit their Texas pipelines in the process, it just means Big 12 teams will be able to capitalize on the recruiting that both states has to offer.

Besides recruiting, Florida is the best state to expand into if the Big 12 wanted to increase the amount of WVU fans in the Big 12 footprint. This map gives a state-by-state breakdown of the amount of WVU alumni living in each state. The first takeaway from the map is that WVU should be an ACC school because their alumni demographics fit into the ACC footprint so well. The second takeaway shows just how little WVU fans there are in the Big 12 footprint.

wvu alumni map #1
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The second map provides a county-by-county breakdown of WVU alumni per county. While this may be for only a single WVU college, (a university is a collection of colleges), there is no reason to expect that the trends in this map are not reflective of all WVU colleges. While Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia offer more WVU alumni than Florida, these alumni are located mostly in parts of their respective states that are relatively close to Morgantown.

In other words these states add WVU alumni to the Big 12 footprint, however these fans are as far away from Morgantown as fans in the southern end of West Virginia are. Expanding into these states adds WVU alumni to the Big 12 footprint, but it does very little to increase access to WVU games for alumni.

The county-by-county map shows only a small of a cluster of WVU fans in the city of Cincinnati (located in southeastern Ohio) and its surround areas. It also shows that Orlando and Tampa have WVU alumni clusters (where UCF & USF are located). Florida may not be the most ideal place for WVU alumni not in the immediate vicinity of Morgantown, (I give that honor to Washington D.C.) however it does offer more WVU alumni (5,514) than the entire Big 12 footprint combined (3,489). And as mentioned earlier, these are alumni who normally would not be able to watch a WVU game without extensive travel. Florida is not the best demographic add for WVU and the Big 12, however its recruiting/demographic combination on top of the demographics added are located far away from Morgantown, make two Florida schools the best possible additions for the Big 12.

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Will this actually happen?

The most likely scenario for a forced Big 12 expansion is if the NCAA waives the two-divisions requirement for a conference championship game (CCG), but not the 12-team requirement.

The NCAA keeping the 12-team rule in place would be a likely occurrence as a number of conferences have already expanded specifically to meet that 12-team requirement. It would be unfair to these conferences to simply let the Big 12 do it without the burden of increasing membership. A ten-team conference already plays round robin, which means there is no logical reason to host a CCG at ten teams anyways.

The Big 12 would also have to consider the possibility that their conference champion may be put at a disadvantage for obtaining a playoff bid because they do not play a CCG. This possibility plus the added revenue (at least $1 million per school) that a CCG would bring in means the Big 12 will strongly consider expansion under these conditions.

Whether or not the Big 12 settles on USF/UCF is hard to determine. A major advantage working in favor for UCF/USF is that they bring a good rivalry and are geographical partners. Conferences do put an emphasis on this as it helps the new additions have an easier transition into their new conference. As for football, UCF is currently the hottest athletic program in the G5. The Knights are coming off a 12-1 season highlighted by a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor. UCF also has a relatively new stadium (opened in 2007) was built to be easily expandable. USF is coming off a 2-10 season, however the program has shown potential in the past.

UCF has a total enrollment of 59,770 students. Meanwhile USF has a total enrollment of 48,315. These enrollment figures are quite large even for FBS standards. Having such a large student body gives the schools excellent growth potential in terms of fan following over the next 10-20 years.

The Big 12 has no academic preference. The conference also has an incredibly small market footprint making them more likely to listen to what the TV networks want rather than what the conference wants. These factors make predicting who the Big 12 would add especially difficult.

The story behind Louisville’s entry into the ACC (7), and the story behind TCU’s entry into the Big 12 (8) paint two vastly different selection processes. The ACC made their selection after painstakingly going over details about Louisville’s academics, athletics, and market size. The Big 12 selection process can only be described as bizarre. From source (8):

“Four hours of cocktailing I never got a chance to crack one binder,” Del Conte recalled recently. “The greatest thing I got from [Dodds] was interpersonal relationship. All he wanted to know was my personal struggles growing up and his personal struggles growing up, how they mirror each other.”

Yes, you read that right. A major conference realignment decision was made over cocktails discussing personal struggles, not going over binders detailing academics, markets, and athletics as common sense would dictate.

If this is seriously how the Big 12 goes about their business then there is no way to truly predict who the conference will add next. This article was meant to carefully breakdown which pair of schools would be the best expansion targets for the Big 12. After evaluating all the information available it is clearly evident that UCF/USF are the best choices. However I do not have a whole lot of confidence that the Big 12 would come to the same conclusion as their previous selection process the last time around was questionable at best.

Click for Part one


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