In my last post I officially claimed and explained my one law of college football realignment.
"When the powers in a conference feel that realignment needs to occur --- at that exact moment --- the schools that fit the immediate and often transitory needs of the conference gets in."
I also loosely posed the questions, "Did TCU getting jumped due to other conferences' championship games reveal an annual problem for the Big 12 in the college playoff era?" and "Did this create a burr under the saddle that will drive OU's and UT's leadership to quickly push to expand the Big 12 back to 12?"
Frank the Tank wrote an exceptional piece on a very logical criteria for expansion of the Big 12. He weighed out the relative merits of each school in sensible categories that he pulled from his very admirable sports brain.
My only issue with it all is that it totally ignores the one law in realignment. It doesn't consider the perceived needs held by the decision makers at that moment. To me, that is a huge oversight.
I look at this moment and I think if UT and OU's leadership reads this as I do --- as a chronic flaw that will eliminate Big 12 schools from the 4 team playoff every year --- then their immediate needs would shuffle the candidate order quite a bit.
(Now I want to be clear. If they feel the 4 team playoff will quickly be replaced with an 8 team playoff there is absolutely no reason to take action. Two Big 12 teams would have made the field in an 8 team playoff and a third was very close.)
Frank the Tank and I agree on one thing. Finding team 11 isn't hard. Any way you slice it, BYU brings the most value to this conference. BYU is relevant and well supported throughout the Mountain timezone and into California and Texas. Most of that is new territory for this Big 12. Their game day support levels and alumni size would place them in a ballpark around the 25-30th most valuable FBS programs, and their religious nature and outsider status makes their fans more fanatical (ie. valueable) than most programs.
The trouble is finding a 12th team that brings enough value that the Big 12 would not have to face a potential per team TV pay cut.
Frank's criteria points at Cincinnati being the likely 12th team. He argues that their years of success in the late BCS era and the chance to recruit Ohio puts them at the top of the list.
I think if the vote were to happen today, Colorado State would be a smarter team 12. Why you ask? For several reasons.
First the obvious ones.
No schools in the Big 12 outside of West Virginia or Kansas is going to make much headway recruiting Ohio. Therefore the powers in the conference don't care about that.
CSU went 10-2 this year, Cinci went 9-3. As the ACC passing UConn for a much lesser academic option in Louisville proves, there is a lot of "what have you done lately" thinking in looking at records. This may in fact be a wash.
CSU is building a $195 to $220 Million dollar stadium and campus renovation. That kind of money pumped into facilities means that CSU would be competitive in the Big 12. Facilities help recruiting a lot. CSU is going to be competitive in any conference they are in.
CSU basketball is pretty good lately. Larry Eustachy may have a bad rap for partying with co-eds in the past, but he is a hell of a good coach. CSU has made the tourney the last two years. He is building a national program. Good basketball fills network hours and the more of it you have in conference, the more NCAA tournament shares a conference capture. Good basketball is a fungible asset.
The University of Colorado is oddly horrible right now. In very real terms, there is a chance for CSU to become the dominant program in Colorado.
Now the less obvious ones.
UT and OU would likely want two more top 20 to top 30 programs. Ideally they would like them in a northern division where they can park travel headache West Virginia. Ideally UT and OU don't want to travel that far for in conference play and if they have to play those schools in a championship game, they want the short travel to the Jerry Dome.
It doesn't even matter if CSU is just mediocre in football if they are in the northern division as OU and UT won't play them every year. BYU will be an annual top 25 team. That is good enough to keep the north respectable. UT and OU will still play Baylor, OSU, and TCU every year. And Tech is usually bowl caliber. There are enough good wins in a potential southern division to put UT and OU in a position to win a "nearly home field" championship game and get into a four team playoff. Remember UT and OU just want a quality opponent which one of West Virginia, BYU, CSU, or Kansas State will provide each year.
CSU hasn't built anything. The Big 12 today can say to CSU, "We will let you in and give you a $20-25 Million dollar annual TV check, but we want your new stadium to sit 40K as of 2016 and 50K as of 2020". CSU will OK that as they still don't know where 100M+ of revenue is going to come from. Big 12 TV checks could pay off the stadium in 5-6 years.
CSU and BYU are strong undergraduate schools. CSU also does a significant amount of research. While the academic elites at UT would likely prefer a Big 10 or Pac 10 affiliation, these are solid academic brands in the central footprint that UT's leadership would probably sign off on inviting into the Big 12.
Finally CSU and BYU's fan bases in Colorado combine to be very significant. One may think BYU just brings Utah TV relevance, but that is untrue. BYU and CSU would bring the very large and lucrative Denver market. Now it is true that Cincinnati is a great market too, but that is Big 10 country. Due to the University of Colorado's struggles, it is not an equivalency with the PAC-12. Colorado could again be Big 12 territory and that would likely make up the value needed for a 12th member.
If the expansion happened today, I think the schools would be BYU and CSU.
(Now I would recommend a larger expansion if I were consulting the Big 12, but that is another article.)