As a BYU fan, the news on Wednesday that the Big 12 was openly exploring candidates to expand by 2 or 4 teams in the near future was very exciting. For years I’ve hoped that BYU could get into the Big 12 and there could never be a more obvious opportunity for them to do so than this. I have long believed (and possibly even publicly stated – I can’t remember right now) that the Big 12 needed to get to 14 members, both to be level with the SEC and Big Ten and also to have some wiggle room if the power conference landscape shifts in the future.
Looking at the current landscape I identified what I believe to be a very good expansion scenario. Here are the four schools I think they should add as full conference members (in order of strongest to weakest addition).
As much as I’m pulling for BYU, I actually think that the Cincinnati Bearcats would be the top choice for the Big 12 right now. They offer a solid program in a prime market as well as a very complete academic and athletic institution to add to the conference plus they serve as a good travel partner for West Virginia.
Next come the BYU Cougars. I think BYU offers the best overall package of any viable option (poaching from other power conferences isn’t likely a viable option right now). If it weren’t for other factors like geography and Sunday play BYU would easily be a better choice than Cincinnati. Add it is, they become the second choice based on my confidence that all impediments people may perceive can be worked out reasonably.
The Houston Cougars are my third choice. On their own merits I think they are nearly the equal of Cincinnati with the potential to be an even better choice within a few years. It is the bridge to West Virginia that sets Cincinnati ahead of them.
The Colorado State Rams come in as my final pick not because they are better than all the other contenders out there but because they prevent BYU from becoming the same kind of geographical headache that West Virginia had been for the last few years. Colorado State leapfrogs other options because of their ability to bridge the distance to BYU just like Cincinnati leapfrogged Houston and BYU.
If the Big 12 chose to add another university such as Memphis rather than Colorado State or even Houston I would be unsurprised and perfectly satisfied. If they didn’t add Cincinnati or BYU it would be disappointing.
Finally, from a logistical standpoint the Big 12 could invite all four institutions at the same time with BYU and CSU joining in 2017 (the penalties for CSU to leave the Mountain West Conference that quickly aren’t prohibitive) while Cincinnati and Houston join in 2018 with the concession that all four Universities gain full shares of the conference money in the same season despite joining in separate years.