Why the Big 12 Shouldn’t Add Cincinnati

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 14 Northwestern State at Cincinnati
Click on image for larger picture.

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 one which discusses why the Big 12 shouldn’t add Cincinnati. Part two discusses why South Florida and Central Florida are the best expansion candidates for the Big 12.

In a previous article, I explained why the Big 12 should not add BYU and how the Big 12 is better served at ten teams rather than twelve. But the question remains, if the Big 12 was absolutely forced to expand, who should they add and why?

The first thing to remember is that the Big 12 does not have a realistic shot at poaching a school from another Power-Five (P5) conference. The ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC all have either a Grant of Rights, which prevents a school from taking its media content to a new school, and/or a more lucrative TV contract. On top of that, schools from the P5 would also lose geographical flexibility, historical rivalries, and academic prestige of their respective conference if they joined the Big 12.

The best Group of Five (G5) expansion target for the Big 12 is Central Florida (UCF) with South Florida as their geographical partner. But before I can explain why the Big 12 would be better off with these two schools, I must address why the University of Cincinnati, which is the most commonly mentioned school as a Big 12 expansion target, is a bad add for the Big 12.

Along with BYU, Cincinnati (UC) is the most commonly mentioned expansion candidate amongst bloggers and by fans on forums. They get brought up largely because of geography and the frequently discussed, “they will be a good travel partner for West Virginia” talking point. While this is a very legitimate argument for the Bearcats inclusion into the Big 12, I believe that this is not enough to justify UC joining the Big 12. There are two problems with Cincinnati for the Big 12.

1. Facilities

Cincinnati’s football stadium is incredibly small for P5 standards. The issue with Nippert Stadium isn’t just its capacity, which is being expanded from 35k to 40k, but the surrounding area. Due to its urban setting, the campus does not have an abundance of space to work with for its athletic facilities.

CInci Overhead Shot
Click on image for larger picture.

As you can see from the picture Nippert Stadium has a number of buildings and athletic facilities in the immediate area that are incredibly close to the facility. Keep in mind that this image is from pre-expansion. Here are the post-expansion renderings:

Aerial Perspective 30x22
Click on image for larger picture.

Nippert Stadium has some serious expansion restraints going forward. I am not declaring expansion impossible for the Bearcats, just that the school will be incredibly limited with their expansion options going forward. On top of that there are other issues that the administration would have to accommodate such as parking and pedestrian traffic if the capacity was significantly increased to be more in-line with Big 12 schools. This is a tough pill to swallow for a school who will be entering the Big 12 with the smallest capacity.

Cincinnati’s basketball arena is also a problem. This is Fifth Third Arena where the Bearcats call home:

Click on image for larger picture.

As you can see from the image the arena does not have a true premium seating section. The only luxury suites in the facility are located behind the baskets, which is the worst view in any basketball arena. In an era where every athletic director is dreaming of ways to increase stadium luxury, Fifth Third Arena puts a virtually non-existent emphasis on that.

The respectful way to put this, the arena has a “non-traditional” look/feel for a P5 facility. The disrespectful way to put this is to say it looks more like a supersized version of a high school gym than a P5 facility.

You may ask, “Why does this matter?” The answer to that is simple. Teams from the P5 (especially Texas and Oklahoma) don’t just care about who they play, but where they play. The Football and Basketball facilities play a huge role in building the image of a conference. The stadiums/arenas are what ultimately get broadcasted over the air and into millions of homes. They size/luxury of these facilities plays a huge factor in how the majority of fans ultimately judge a program. The facilities of an expansion target are mentioned quite often among administrators when discussing conference realignment.

2. The Ohio State/Big Ten problem

The state of Texas is notorious for the way its public FBS schools have to compete with each other for state funding and fan support. While the situation in Ohio may not be as bad as things are in Texas, the two closely mirror each other. The University of Cincinnati is located in Ohio and thus in the shadow of The Ohio State University. The Buckeyes have a political and fan support dominance that is unusual for a state as large as Ohio.

The state of Ohio is by far the largest state with only a single P5 school, and has the most lopsided G5-P5 ratio (7-1) of any state. The reason for this is because Ohio State is willing to fight in order to maintain their stranglehold in the state of Ohio with a “take no prisoners” approach. Now rather than describe how the process works myself, I will instead let the words of my favorite bowtie wearing university president make the case for me.

Click on image for larger picture.

“There were times when the University of Cincinnati would want something and I would try my hardest to make sure they didn’t get it, even if I wasn’t going to get it either.” (1)

“Even though we love Cincinnati as a city, we want it to be an Ohio State city.” (2)

-Gordon Gee former president of Ohio State University.

While those comments may sound horrible to casual fans, those comments are reflective of the way universities treat each other across the nation. Empires were not forged out of kindness. It is like “hand-to-hand combat” (1) as Gee described it. Schools are always competing with each other to put their institutions in the best possible position to succeed. Ohio State using their vast network of resources and proximity to the Ohio capital will always do whatever is in their power to keep Cincinnati down. Now this isn’t a practice limited specifically to Ohio State, it is a practice seen all across the nation. Ohio State just so happens to have a former university president that is willing to talk about it so bluntly.

So why is this the Big 12’s problem? If the Big 12 were to add Cincinnati, it would mean an influx in additional resources for the school. In addition, it would also give UC a sense of legitimacy that they are for all purposes equal to their Big Ten counterparts. This is something that Ohio State and the Big Ten do not want to happen as it would mean an extra school for the Big Ten to compete with in terms of fan following, recruiting, and prospective students.

There is no other G5 addition that the Big 12 could make that the Big Ten would feel more irritated by. Whether the Big 12 intends to or not, this type of move would be the Big 12 infringing on the Big Ten’s territory. The last time a conference expanded in a manner that made the Big Ten feel threatened was by the ACC when they tried to build a stronger presence in the northeast by adding Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse. The Big Ten responded by taking Rutgers and raiding an ACC charter member (Maryland). Combined with a series of other marketing moves, the Big Ten prevented the ACC from laying sole claim to the Northeast.

It is unknown as to whether or not the Big Ten would actually raid the Big 12 in this scenario, but it would most certainly move the Big Ten’s crosshairs towards the Big 12. Given the tremendous wealth, academic prestige, and stability that the Big Ten offers, there are a number of Big 12 schools that wouldn’t think twice before accepting a hypothetical invite from the conference. The best analogy here is to say it is unwise to poke the sleeping bear. That bear may awake one day and come after you, but in the meantime, it is best to let him sleep for as long as possible.

In the meantime…

Gordon Gee’s tendency to say the wrong things ultimately lead to his forced resignation “retirement” from Ohio State. However, the story doesn’t end there for Cincinnati fans.

Click on image for larger picture.

Gordon Gee is now president of none other than WVU.

The Big 12 should think bigger

I perfectly understand the rationale that countless people have put forward about Cincinnati. They do act as a bridge that helps West Virginia (WVU) be less of an outlier. However this is not the most efficient way to help WVU for two reasons.

The first reason is that Cincinnati is still just one school whose net benefit would be giving WVU a regional away game every other year. That is a very small net gain for the conference as a whole for a very big price tag that would be adding Cincinnati. The advantages of Cincinnati’s proximity to Morgantown will be seen mostly in the non-football sports, but at the same time the rest of the Big 12 will now have to take more Eastern trips to accommodate the Bearcats in all sports as well.

To explain the second reason how this is not the most efficient way to help WVU, one would first need to understand why WVU is an outlier in the Big 12 in the first place. Travel distances often get fingered as the biggest reason why a particular school is an outlier in a conference. While increased travel distances certainly doesn’t help a university, what it ultimately comes down to is the demographics of the university in question.

The perfect example of this is Colorado. Despite drastically increasing their travel distances with the Big 12 to Pac-12 move, the Buffs now find themselves in a conference that has nearly three times the amount of CU alumni as their previous conference (3), and the majority of their traditional recruiting grounds.

West Virginia could have easily overcome their less than ideal geographical situation in the Big 12 had their fan base and recruiting grounds had been located within the Big 12 footprint. However that is not the case at all for the Mountaineers.  The best way to help WVU is not to decrease travel distances, but to expand into a region that offers traditional WVU recruiting grounds and expands the amount of WVU fans living in the Big 12 footprint.

The state that best fits that description is not Ohio, it is Florida.

Click for part two


Follow on Twitter: @sportspolitico
Send us an Email: sportspolitico@gmail.com


  1. BearcatTerritory

    The facilities issue is really moot, because the Bearcats lease 65,000 seat Paul Brown Stadium for big draw games. Yes, an NFL stadium, like the one USF plays in. And plans for a Fifth Third Arena renovation address the premium seating issue.

      1. nert-CMU

        There is no question that Cincinnati could sell out Paul Brown stadium for Texas and Oklahoma games. The issue is Kansas, IowaSt and Baylor games. While those teams may draw well at home, I don’t think Cinci fans would be excited enough about those games to require moving them to Paul Brown stadium (which – granted is only about 2.5 miles from campus). Would the Big12 be OK with having most of their conference games in Cincinnati @ Nippert? I don’t know – maybe not at a 40,000 fan capacity. But, you can fill out the oval (by taking out part of a very weird-shaped building away), and that would put Nippert at about 55-60K. That seems to me to more than enough for Big12 standards. Outside of Texas (100,119) and Oklahoma (82,112), all of the Big12 stadiums are between 45,000 and 61,000.

      2. Playing at an NFL stadium while not ideal, is a tactic that a number of programs use. I certainly wouldn’t fault UC if they played at Paul Brown Stadium (PBS), the issue I have is switching between PBS and Nippert. That is asking for a world of headaches.

        It will cause a huge rift among season ticket holders and students. Fans/alumni/students prefer the consistency more than anything else and toying with that is simply bad business strategy.

        The smaller Big 12 schools could throw a fit if they see OU/UT getting special treatment while they don’t.

  2. Ray Pfriem

    What a weak article. OSU cannot and will not hold UC nor the Big 12 from anything they want to do. The UC facilities are both being upgraded dramatically. The writer clearly has a Florida bias.

    1. I have no connection whatsoever to the state of Florida. It’s not a question of OSU/Big Ten preventing the Big 12 from doing what they want to do, but how the Big Ten will respond. The Big 12 stayed intact in the last round of realignment in large part because the Big Ten was content with the prospect of a ten team Big 12 over a 16 team Pac-16. If the Big Ten starts to feel that the Big 12 is encroaching on them, make no mistake they will respond in a way that weakens the Big 12.

  3. Anonymous

    obviously every retard with access to the internet is entitled to his/ her opinion. However, that does not necessarily reflect the consensus around the country. Bearcats have won more football games within the last ten years than most so called P5 teams. Look it up. Thanks for wasting my 5 minutes in reading this ridiculous article.

    1. It is hard to compare records between teams from different conferences. Strength of schedule and geography of their conference does play a role in team performance. After seeing TCU’s/WVU’s lackluster performance in Big 12 play it is very hard to argue that UC will not suffer a similar trend.

    1. This is a hypothetical expansion scenario (as described in part II) where the Big 12 is forced to expand in order to reach the minimum amount of teams for a conference championship game. I did not cite market stats because 1) they are not relevant to this scenario and 2) the Big 12 didn’t put a whole lot of emphasis on that the last time around when they added TCU/WVU.

  4. kyle

    That guy is so wrong it isn’t even funny. He never mentions TV, viewership, money 1 time.
    Did he really mention our 13,000 seat bball arena (which does need a renovation).?
    He said they only premium seating is behind the baskets? So wrong. All of the luxury suites face
    courtside. We have a 2 layer restaurant bar behind the baskets.

    Ohio State would get mad and raid the Big 12 all by themselves LOL

    1. If you read the above comment, the reason why I did not go into extensive detail about markets is because it is irrelevant to the Big 12 and the hypothetical scenario in which I was discussing. This article is about a forced Big 12 expansion under the premise of finding a way to host a conference championship game.

      The Big 12 is expanding just for the sake of expanding and not under the objective of obtaining a more lucrative TV contract. Plus if you recall TCU/WVU are not known for bringing large markets to the table. The Big 12 has already shown a disregard for markets in the past, part of which is because their situation is much different than the rest of the P5.

      If there was a major market that a G5 school could deliver I would of added them to the Big 12 in this scenario. UCF/USF have huge enrollments and both come from major cities as well. It is hard to argue that UC beats UCF/USF for market size considering how much future growth potential the two Florida schools have in terms of fanbase size.

    2. I did make a pretty big mistake with the Fifth-Third luxury suite comments. I put most of my research into recruiting trends for this project and did not properly verify that. It was a huge mistake on my fault and I do apologize. For the record Fifth-Third does have luxury suites, 16 to be exact and they run parallel to the court. Behind the baskets is a drinking area.

      Sorry for that.

  5. dsquare

    As has been mentioned cincy actually has better fball facilities that some of the current big 12 or acc members with their access to an nfl stadium. In fact the 60k for oklahoma a couple seasons ago shows they will come out for quality games. You have to focus on the fact that the big12 only avg. 55k per game as a league right now anyway. Several of their schools are propping that up by the way. The bball facilities are really irrelevant, but again in their current facility cincy still averages at least or better than baylor, ttech, wv and both usf and ucf. They also have excellent travel accessibility with a first class airport.
    The bigger issue in all of this realignment is the long term impact of competitiveness. How long will the wv,, syc, rutgers tcu, et. al fans show up at any stadium regardless of capacity if they aren’t competitive? Making the assumption that they are in any better shape than a cincy is a stretch. I still see a likely big 12 bust up if they do not increase to 14 or 16 shortly. texas and oky wbe gone, and likely remainder with bigger aac and mwest schools in a new league which i where wv, tcu etc would be in much better shape anyway.

    1. The facilities are by no means the #1 reason why UC is not getting a Big 12 invite. The points I touched based on go from least important to most important. Facilities are not a major issue, but at the same time it is something that does need addressing.

      The biggest reason for a lack of a Big 12 invite has nothing to do with UC itself, but the concept that the Big 12 could be better served going after the historical recruiting grounds WVU has had success in, rather than geographical proximity to WVU.

      Thanks for your response, you bring up a lot of good points.

    1. Technically: Yes

      However NY has just three FBS programs total, one of which is a service academy. NY has the SUNY system which is much different than the traditional two big school landgrant/flagship setup that the majority of states use. This gives the school no major public university to dominate the state. On top of that NY produces 1/4th the amount of Division I signees as Ohio.

      So yes NY is the biggest with just a single P5 school, but when looking at the two from a college football perspective NY is tiny compared to Ohio. In terms of dominating a single state and the resources available within that state, no one comes close to OSU and Ohio.

  6. Mike

    Interesting article – however, you’re wrong about 5/3rd arena. They have 16 luxury boxes on the sidelines (8 on each side) about 20 rows up. You can see the white railings for some of them in the picture. The large box high up over the baseline is the ultra-elite luxury box.

    Yes, UC basketball could easily fill more luxury boxes, but the real problem with 5/3 is the sightlines. Seats above the luxury boxes are very far away from the action. The seats at the very top are so high that they get hot when the stadium is full, even in January. Despite these issues UC basketball still would be middle of the pack in the Big 12 for attendance.

  7. Mike

    Also, it’s a little ridiculous to suggest that the Big 10 would make an offer to a Big 12 team just because the Big 12 added Cincinnati.

    You’re completely misreading the Big 10’s motivation in adding Maryland. The primary reason they offered Maryland was because they were afraid of losing Penn State to the ACC. It also didn’t hurt that they could get the BTN in the Baltimore & DC markets. The point is that it had nothing to do with revenge against the ACC.

    OSU may be powerful and at times are quite petty, but they’re only 1 vote. And they’re not going to cut off their nose to spite their face. They’ll only add schools if it ends up being a net positive for them, and if they want Kansas/Oklahoma or Kansas/Missouri then they’ll try to make it happen regardless of whether or not UC is in the Big 12.

    1. Yes the PSU outlier issue and bringing the BTN to East Coast markets played a large role in the Big Ten’s decision to add RU & UMD. However you need to remember that the Big Ten had virtually 0% chance of losing UMD or RU to another P5 conference other than the ACC, which at the time did not have a GoR. Their TV contract doesn’t expire until 2016

      Yes the Big Ten took those schools, but it wasn’t time critical. The ACC establishing a stronger foothold in the Northeast is ultimately what played a major role in their decision to pull the trigger on that expansion idea.

      You can also look at the Big Ten’s marketing moves as well. They have opened a number of conference offices in the Northeast, have moved a number of conference tournaments into the Northeast, and are partnering with the Big east for a basketball challenge. Clearly the Big Ten is trying to flex some muscle in the region and didn’t start to do so until after the ACC added three schools with strong connections to the Northeast.

  8. Anonymous

    IU, Purdue, OSU did not stop UC from going to the Big east and they can’t stop them from going anywhere but the BIG. And Purdue played us last year in Cincinnati. Regarding UCF/USF vs Cincy for TV markets, remember that the viewership for that State is Florida, FSU and Miami. I like USF and UCF. It would make more sense to take 1 Florida school and then plant a flag in Ohio, Cincinnati.

    1. I have seen a lot of interesting comments from UC fans on this issue. Some have been extremely firm in their belief that the Big Ten/OSU was terrified about the 2003-2005 conference realignment giving UC BCS status. Others have taken an approach that is more along the lines of what you are saying.

      It is very hard to compare 2003-2005 to a 2014 hypothetical realignment scenario because they two are completely different time periods.

      The Big 12 does a lot more to raise the overall profile of a school than the 2005 move did. The revenue differences between the 2005 Big East move and a hypothetical 2014 Big 12 move are also gigantic.

      But most importantly the Big Ten didn’t have an expansion mindset in 2005, in 2014 that is clearly a different case.

  9. Anonymous

    OSU was never terrified of UC going into the Big East but it did make it to their radar screen. Gordon Gee said, “You know Penn State just abhors Pitt. It would be the same way. Even though we love Cincinnati as a city, we want it to be an Ohio State city. They’d have to take (athletic director) Gene (Smith) out and shoot him to let Cincinnati into the Big Ten. There are some things that we just would not do. And that’s the way that Penn State also feels about Pitt.”

    Again OSU, they can’t do anything to UC except refuse to send their football team down here and duck us in BBall.

    Will have the Big 12 have to expand for a conference playoff, or would it make sense to expand their footprint in more highly populated areas.
    Besides Texas, their footprint is not highly populated. I don’t know.

  10. dsquare

    Let’s face it, the big ten and particularly osu are concerned about their status because they have faltered against the other power conferences on a regular basis lately. Osu’s loss last year in the bowl game swept them back to second with Msu’s win(s). Their fans are in a constant state of self reflection. Meyer will be under pressure this year after the crash at the end of last year. It’s a big year for Dantonio is he can best osu.

  11. Hello, I just came across this article from over the summer. I would like to retort some of your analysis regarding Cincinnati. A. Nippert is in the first phase of expansion, the second phase adds another ten thousand seats. While 50,000 is still small it’s certainly better than 40,000. B. Funding for state universities in Ohio has changed. That article was looking back on the early 2000’s and 1990’s. The governors office has completely revamped the system which greatly limited Ohio states ability to retard the rest of the state. Cincinnati has been able to grow to around 42-46 thousand students as a result and is currently in the middle of a boon of sorts, even without a prestigious sports conference behind it. C. There is currently a debate going on regarding basketball. The city of Cincinnati would like to level us bank arena down town and build a brand new arena. One capable of hosting political conventions, concerts, etc. They would like the university of Cincinnati to sign on as the primary tenant to help sell the idea. The University of Cincinnati would like to renovate 5th/3rd to have it more in line with modern basketball arenas. This is only a debate because they did not know how fans would react to us bank arena. With the newly renovated Ohio riverfront nearing completion (called the banks), this season’s football team playing at Paul brown stadium all year has provided the perfect Petri dish. Fans have absolutely loved “bearcat on the banks” way more than the school anticipated. They will likely make the decision regarding basketball in the next few weeks. D. Usf is awful. No one watches, no one goes, even worse…no one cares. You would not have that problem with UC.

  12. Matt

    Decent article. The writer hits on a lot of topics, and is mostly accurate. He has admitted his error in the basketball luxury suites. Let that be.

    I am a UC fan. Always have been, always will. That’s my disclaimer. We live in the shadow of OSU in Ohio, but not Cincinnati. This is a Bearcat city. Sure there are some OSU grads down here, like there are UC grads in Columbus. The cities are a couple hours apart.

    Why UC will be added. TV market. It’s big, and adding in Dayton, it gets only bigger. The author points out the attendance issue. That’s a fact. With increased competition comes people (see Oklahoma a few years back). Next, facilities. While Nippert is being addressed, and there are multiple options for the basketball arena, one needs to look no further than the varsity village to realize facilities are not the issue everywhere.

    The one thing that fails to be mentioned is right away UC would be the 2nd best basketball program in the conference (Kansas).

    Huge student population, and yes while we are overshadowed by the Reds and Bengals, when you are turning in an enrollment of 43k+ every year and have a huge TV market (in relation to what is still available for conferences to poach) you have a very, very viable option in Cincy.

  13. Anonymous

    UC has been going between Nippert and Paul Brown Stadium since we entered the Big East in 2005. Most of the big home games have been played there. From Oklahoma, WVU, Ohio State etc. Another expansion of Nippert also isn’t out of the question. UC has one of the best architecture programs in the nation and I promise they can figure it out. The issue for UC has always been the lack of funding due to being in the smaller conferences. For example…AAC gives $8 million a year for athletics while conferences like the Big Ten give schools $48 million.

  14. Adam

    How about mentioning that UC is a top 25 research facility on par with other major academic centers. Add that and the athletics and you have a pretty good fit.

    I’m sure this “author” would prefer to use incorrect and expired data though to push for Florida.

  15. I’m not saying that 5/3 Arena is a gem, because it is clearly not, but you have definitely never been there either. Half of your analysis is about how there is only luxury seating behind the basket. To correct you, the area behind the basket is a bar/restaurant that is open for anyone pregame and donors during the game. There are about 20 other suites in the arena, which are located between the 1st and 2nd decks, as they are in every other arena.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

five × 5 =