Monday, September 28, 2015

Big 12 Expansion -- Part 4: What a Bold Big 12 expansion would look like.

As I admitted in Part 1 of this series, conceptually I have historically been a big proponent of UT taking some Texas schools with them into the PAC-12 as that would represent leveraging a Texas natural resource (high school football talent) into an optimal return for Texans with likely significant gains in collegiate research at our universities (job creation and financial gains for the state) and a dramatic increase in out-of-state angel investments in Texas. 

It doesn't look as appealing to me today as it did in 2003, and frankly with the exception of OU's leadership, it looks like the principles are not on board for such a move.

And that's great, because contrary to popular opinion, there is an opportunity to build something great from the gnarled bones of the rotting carcass of a power conference that is the Big 12.

In Part 2, I covered the recruiting needs of the conference.

In Part 3, I listed out all of the other needs of this conference.

Of key importance was the concept that every school in the Big 12 today has voluntarily chosen to lash their school to the UT and OU brands because it gives those other schools their best opportunity to stay in the power conferences. 

Once member schools accept that idea conceptually, it makes sense to actively get on board with the right kinds of concepts in expansion --- one that yields UT and OU a comfortable long term home.

UT loves being the big fish in a power conference. OU loves being in a conference with UT ---as long as OU can succeed.  They are already inclined to stay if the conference doesn't put them at a huge disadvantage.

The results of a professionally done expansion should make the Big 12 such a well suited home for the Big 2 that they would give up too many benefits to leave.

Now, today, in Part 4, it is time to layout the expansion plan to meet these needs, to name the candidates that should be added, and to explain the chronology and the logic.

I beg your patience. Advocating an expansion will raise questions on the admission of every member. I am trying to balance writing articles that aren't too long with answering as many of those "whys?" as possible.

I want this article to be fairly lean as it has to cover a bunch of stuff, so there will be a fifth article to explain the minutia for people who, like me, want to really get into the logic of why one school and not the other.

No half measures.

If the Big 12 is going to be a power conference in the age of superconferences, this expansion has to yield a superconference.


Anything else is really a waste of time.

There is no school or two expansion that moves the needle on this conference.  It would take a University of Southern California and a University of Florida to deliver that kind of 1-2 punch for this conference to save it from being picked apart.  Those caliber of schools aren't coming. 

The best you can get is BYU and Cinncinati.

Thinking the Big 12 can add 1-2 schools and get by is catastrophic WAC-level thinking at this point.  Thinking like that will cost the Big 12 their power schools and their membership among the elite.

The only way to survive the next 10 years without losing the keys to staying a power conference is to cobble together the right collection of flawed candidates available today and build something where the parts work off each other to have a much greater collective value than looking at the parts individually would lead one to believe.

You have to manage the now.

This is the Big 12 today.

You'll notice that the schools are for the most part clustered in nearby pairs.   Today power conferences' expansion philosophy is to add a single school per state in larger population states and stack together state populations. 

Member clustering is seen as wasting limited resources (membership slots) and is a huge issue in today's 10 member Big 12 conference specifically as most of the clustering is in small population states, but... a good plan turns weaknesses into strengths.  We will come back to what opportunity this offers towards the end of this article.

Let's start by talking about what needs to happen for a smart expansion.

I think that starts with laying the groundwork for a Big 12 network.

1) Buy the Longhorn Network from UT.

The Big 12 is on a pathway to dissolution if the Longhorn Network continues in it's current form for the next 8 years.

The LHN prevents the other Big 12 schools from harvesting optimal value from their tier 3 media rights via a conference network ---- like all the other power conferences are doing now.

This financial deficit will allow either the SEC, the Big 10 or The PAC -12 to steal OU and Kansas when the Big 12 Grant of Rights deal is winding down.  UT will leave shortly thereafter.

And that will be it for the Big 12 as a power conference. 

Member schools need to accept this is the path the conference is on without a big expansion.

The Big 12 footprint contains just under 38 Million people.  A Big 12 conference network will not get off the ground without UT's fans making it happen in a Texas, a state of 26.5 of the 38 Million.  Today those fans are supporting the LHN.

The conference has about 8 years to fix this before a school violating the conference grant of rights deal looks tolerable.

So how do you fix the LHN issue?

The conference leadership should buy the damned thing from UT.

If you think about it, it is not that crazy of an idea at all for either party.

You just need to add value for UT.

If OU commits not to jump from the Big 12 for the next 20 years --- basically the only thing that could twist UT's arm and drag them into another conference against their will --- that would be the value added required to make considering such a thing worthwhile for UT.

Removing that bone of contention in a manner where UT doesn't lose money, UT looks reasonable, and where ESPN didn't pull the plug (embarrassing UT) would do a ton to rehabilitate UT's image among other universities' administrators and would instantly restore a semblance of viability to the Big 12.

ESPN guarantees UT a minimum of $15 Million a year.   The Big 12 should just guarantee UT that money in exchange for ownership and the ability to rebrand the network as the Big 12 Network.

All conference members' tier 3 content will be available for broadcast or rebroadcast on the Big 12 network.  Any revenue beyond UT's cut will be split evenly among the rest of the schools.  The Big 12 members will eat any rebranding costs.

Wording could be added that sets the expectation that at some point down the road when the network value matures, it could quietly be negotiated that UT's network payout will eventually be an equal share with everyone else's share.  

That restores UT's freedom to evaluate joining other conferences at that down the road point while giving them a face-saving escape from the DeLoss Dodds finger trap.   That presents a UT perceived value add down the road, but one that would be irrelevant if expansion is handled correctly today.

(I cover this in a lot more detail in the minutia article.)

With that secured, it would be on the next big negotiation.

2) Find out if BYU is in on the Big 12's terms.

The are a lot of true statements regarding BYU and the Big 12 joining forces.
- BYU is by far the best candidate available to the Big 12.
- BYU would be a strong addition for any power conference.
- BYU is the only candidate for Big 12 inclusion that is undisputedly a power conference-caliber member athletically AND academically (with a US NEWS rank of 66).
- An isolated BYU brings no more to the Big 12 than West Virginia did.
- BYU would be the 4th most value asset in the conference behind UT, OU, and Kansas.
- The Big 12 cannot make concessions for BYU that might make Texas more difficult to manage.

So there it is.

BYU is in large part a public relations piece.  If BYU joins in the expansion, it will be tough for critics who want to paint the expansion as a futile effort that won't change the status quo, but again, BYU on it's own or with a single partner doesn't begin to fix the conferences's issues or deliver the value that BYU could potentially offer.

I think you go to BYU and tell them they are the unanimous first choice of the conference, but such an agreement has to have give and take on both sides. 

The conference will back BYU's "no playing on Sundays" rule and will build a division that will allow BYU to recruit well, rebuild their influence, and have a shot to run every year, but BYU has to pull the plug on their network and be a team player in the Big 12--- if OU and Kansas are being respectful conference mates and playing the role of peers, BYU obviously has to fall in line.

I think BYU would buy in. Independence is a poor substitute for power conference membership.  BYU won't get that power conference invite from any other power conference due to geography and the PAC-12's distaste for religion interfering with unfettered research.

BYU was forced to go independent when their little brother Utah was invited into a power conference and BYU was not. 

It was a face-saving move.  It hasn't worked out.  Independence is eroding their influence, recruiting, and fan base.  They are losing ground to Utah which has power conference membership.

Admission to the Big 12 equates to a raise in TV revenue and a good media fit, as Mormons are all over the western half of the US.

So get a handshake deal to announce it later and then start with the next step, the rebranding of the conference.

Rumours will get out that you are talking to BYU and may have made them an offer.  Getting that leaked is optimal.

3) Public expansion ---"Give 'em what they expect."

I think the Big 12 needs to think a little like P.T. Barnum.  Control the message; Promote your brand.

The public expects the Big 12 to do something trivial and insignificant, if anything at all.

I would consider the first step in the actual expansion process to be rebuilding and rebranding the identity of the conference as the conference of the central US.

Lets take another look at the Big 12 map.

I have drawn a map to illustrate influence. In instances like Iowa State, Pitt, and Georgia Tech it is a little unfair, but it is handled consistently.    Remember only 11.5 million people live in Big 12 states outside of Texas.  And none of those states' populations are growing.

The PAC is the conference of the west.  The SEC is the conference of the Southeast.  The B1G is the conference of the Northeast.  The ACC is the conference of the East coast.

What exactly is the Big 12 brand today?  I'd argue that the first thought that comes to mind for most fans is "A conference of failure"... just like the defunct WAC and Big East football brands.

It is time for a new identity.

It is time to chose a new name without a number or a limiter.  Make it simple and possibly a little arrogant.

The best I have come up with is "The Central Powers' Conference" a.k.a. "The CP" or "The CPC".   It clearly immediately brings to mind the best features of the conference --- UT and OU football and Kansas basketball --- top 3 to 7 brands in their respective sports.

But, whatever the members prefer.

Just about anything is better than the Big 12, but choose wisely. There is power and stability in having a brand the public understands.

How do you get the public thinking there?  How do you make them get your brand?

How do you get people to "get it"? 

Capture the big media markets that drive the national media conversation first.

I think you do it by bringing in powerful media markets along the core of your conference  to promote the rebranding. Force these major markets to put microphones in front of you due to you having a local presence. Make them your megaphone in the future to get your voices heard.

The point of doing a portion of the expansion first is to get these big markets (and the national media) talking about you in the way you want them to talk about you for the whole expansion process.  You want to control the message.  You want to feed them your taking points so they can get fans across the country repeating them.

That to me suggest the Big 12 should have stakes planted in Texas (DFW, Austin/San Antonio, & Houston) and Chicago with a run of school linking them and hitting the big media markets between (Oklahoma City, St. Louis, and Kansas City).  A conference spine if you will that gives you active access to the #3, #5, and #10 media markets to propagate your branding message.

The Big 12 membership is a pretty ideal starting point for that plan.

To meet this goal the Big 12 needs members in Houston, St. Louis, and Chicago.

This would conceptually refinish the skeletal remains of what exists currently in the Big 12 into a new conference spine running from Texas to Chicago.   You need a Missouri university (optimally in St. Louis) with good academics and a Chicago university with at least decent academics and a large enrollment and finally a Houston school you can stomach.

I would add St. Louis University and the University of Illinois at Chicago as a non-football members and the University of Houston as a football-only member.

(Assuming a  2/3 to 1/3 split as was done in the Big East,  football-only membership in the Big 12 would yield annual payments of about $16 Million and basketball-only membership would yield payments around $8 Million.)

This point is where the BYU rumor can be leveraged for maximum payoff.  You can say the Big 12 has big news coming up on the expansion front. After this expansion, the assumption will be that the BYU invitation will be a football-only invite and that the Big 12 will only be going to 12 --- just in an odd way.  It sets up the media to be shocked when the next stage occurs in about 3 weeks.

Why these three schools?

St. Louis has strong fan support, a good academic reputation (US News #97), and a basketball program that is usually a tourney bubble team.  They fit the Big 12 well.

When Missouri left, it hurt the conference's ability to monetize the viewership of the Kansas schools' fanbases.   A lot of their fanbase and alumni base live in Missouri --- I would guess anywhere from 20-40%.  Without a Missouri school, it is tough for the Big 12 to leverage those fans.

Adding St. Louis would fix a lot of that specific media problem. 

It pulls the conference footprint closer to the rich Memphis, Indiana, and Illinois basketball recruiting areas.

The fact that St. Louis is on the Illinois border and SLU has fans on both sides lays the groundwork for trying to sell the idea that a basketball-only member in Chicago merits a nice carriage fee in Illinois.

This expansion makes it like having three schools in Missouri and two in Illinois.

I looked at all the football options I could find in Illinois before reaching the conclusion that the University of Illinois-Chicago as an Olympic member should be the Big 12's Chicago anchor.

The Big 10 owns all the good football candidates in Illinois and there isn't enough talent in the state to make adding another football member look sensible.  (My conclusions in Missouri was similar, but not as strong.)  Illinois only produced 51 3 star or better football players last year and already has N. Illinois, Northwestern, and Illinois mining that FBS level talent.

I decided that rather than champion the startup or upgrade of a football program that would not be able to compete in the Big 12 and might only draw 20-25,000 a game, I would look for a non-football school with Chicago relevance.  The choice became UIC or Loyola Chicago. 

I chose UIC  (for reasons covered heavily in the minutia article).

UIC has a 7000 seat area that, given their current attendance, I think would sell out in the Big 12.  Ticket scarcity and excitement would make TV viewership go up among UIC sizeable alumni base (enrollment 27,000), creating a good TV asset in Chicago.  That is all you really need out of a Chicago candidate.

With all that, there should be enough there to get decent (second conference) media attention in Chicago.

On to Houston...UH gets the nod in Houston over Rice due entirely to Houston's much larger alumni-base.

Texas A&M has been destroying all Texas schools in recruiting and that has to stop.   As we discussed in the recruiting article, A&M has had first choice of the state's talent in football for the last 4 years over UT and OU. 

It is not just football. TAMU pulled 4 blue chippers in basketball last year and they have commitments from 2 more this year.  Are UT and OU ready for the possibility of TAMU becoming a Kentucky south in basketball?

When the lone SEC school in the state owns first pick in football and basketball recruiting, is it inaccurate to say the SEC owns the state?  How about if LSU and Alabama are also picking off blue chippers at a higher rate than any Big 12 school besides UT and OU?  This cannot continue, even if the cost to correct this is adding UH.

For the good of the Big 12, TAMU needs to be kneecapped.  UH would be a much more effective Tonya Harding than Rice.

The Big 12 has several large alumnibases in Houston, but A&M is the only power conference school in the area, so the spotlight goes to them.  Houston has an enrollment of just under 41,000.  That is a big school with a big alumnibase ---- most of which live in Houston!  That is a powerful media weapon.   Add UH fans to the alumni and fans of the other Big 12 schools living in Houston and there will be a media swing back towards the Big 12.

The rank and file of the Big 12 membership will regularly sell out UH's new stadium, turning UH football into a hot ticket.. UH can play a game a year in NRG stadium against either UT or OU, giving the Big 2 biannual showcase games in Houston.

That will do more to hurt A&M's recruiting and help UT and OU's recruiting than anything else the conference could do.  If A&M's recruiting drops a bit, their media attention in DFW will fall as well.

UH academically is far from power conference caliber.  They don't belong in a power conference academically.  Additionally, their attendance is strongly capped by playing in the shadow of the NBA rockets and the NFL's Texans, so they will never be a candidate for the SEC.

A Big 12 invite is the best UH could hope for and it appears the sensible offer is a football-only invite for the Cougars. This is their ceiling.  They will have to content themselves with playing their SWC rivals and a TV check for $16 Million a year.

4) East or West?...At minimum expansion needs to go after one of the two big recruiting areas in a big way that allows UT and OU (and hopefully several other Big 12 schools) to recruit better.

With a footprint of just under 38 Million, the Big 12 needs viewers for a Big 12 network.  Even adding Illinois and Missouri only brings the footprint up to 57 Million.  That is still much smaller than other power conferences.

The Big 12 football footprint only produced 340 three star or better players, 53 of which were blue chippers, last year.  A top recruiting area that Big 12 schools can actually tap is needed.

Florida and California are both large recruiting areas that are under served by FBS schools.  So which direction should the Big 12 go?

West to California

The academic assets of candidates in the west are superior to those in the east and BYU is in the west, so the west needs to be the priority if the goal is to retain UT long term. 

You have to try to upgrade the conference's academic brand higher than the SEC's again and make the conference affiliation somehow valuable academically to UT in order to make academics less of an issue for that segment of UT's boosters and leadership.

In recruiting terms, in any western expansion the goal has to be to add to California in a meaningful, mineable way.

Any western all-sports expansion to California has to be hubbed on Brigham Young University.  The Big 12 is central timezone conference.  California is in the Pacific timezone.   The Mountain Timezone is too large of a region geographically to comfortably just be "flyover territory". 

You have to have some serious presence in the Mountain Time Zone delivered by as few schools as possible.

BYU is really the key to the Mountain Time Zone. If you have BYU, it doesn't take much to be very relevant in the sparcely populated mountain time zone because BYU's fan base is diffused across the west. 

To understand this, you need to understand where Mormons live.  (Here is a map gifted to me by the great Googler.)

There is a reason Pac-12 schools love playing BYU out of conference.

BYU can pull 70,000 fans to watch a football game at home (something no other candidates can do presently) and 5-10,000 fans on the road anywhere from Texas to Hawaii.

They are the big fish not in a power conference.  They are the only school that you point at and say, "This is in every way, not only a power conference school, but also a relatively strong one at that."

BYU is the Mormon version of Notre Dame, but their foray into face-saving independence (after being passed over by the PAC-10 in favor of the state's number 2 school, the University of Utah) has dramatically weakened BYU's product by largely eliminating the rivalries that excite their fans.

This is why just adding BYU alone in the west wouldn't make sense. Utah has a population of less than 3 million people.  Adding BYU alone would only yield a crippled, regional isolated BYU product.  It would amount to something similar to adding a western version of West Virginia. 

What good is a king without a kingdom?

That would do nothing for the Big 12.

If you want to maximize BYU's substantial value, you need to engage the residents of all Deseret (basically enlarge the Utah state boundaries 20-40%).  The surest way to try to reach that goal is to get the strongest version of BYU possible.

The Big 12 would be smart to bring in some of BYU's better traditional rivals (some who bring good media markets, strong basketball, and tolerable academics) in order to sew together western media relevance & some claim of mountain region dominance.

Colorado State (US News #127 with about $315 Million in annual research)  and San Diego State (#151) fit the bill.  Both schools are long-time rivals, offer good markets, and should be able to recruit well enough to compete with BYU.

CSU's and BYU's fans together would yield Denver DMA relevance that mirrors what the University of Colorado used to bring the Big 12. 

Colorado is a state of 5 million. The University of Colorado is horrible in football currently and CSU just built a tremendously expensive but slightly too small on-campus stadium.  If CSU can use their new facilities to pull supplemental recruiting from California and Texas and CU cannot, CSU has a shot to remain the state's more successful football school.

CSU is located at the exact geographic center of the Denver DMA. As a candidate, they are a vastly underrated TV addition in a better conference.

SDSU, along with USC and UCLA, is one of only three FBS schools in Southern California.  Southern California has a population of 22. 6 Million.  That is just smaller than Texas.  That is a HUGELY under-serviced area in terms of Southern California FBS schools versus recruits.  A lot of PAC and MWC teams recruit the area.  Plucking SDSU would give BYU and the other Big 12 schools in a western division a fairly good claim to regular recruiting in the area.

Additionally, SDSU looks like a potential gem of an athletic addition, with a chance to be top notch in football, basketball, and baseball. They have a very marketable brand in addition to several other assets.
Why this piece of bad-assity is not SDSU's regular helmet is beyond me.  Heck, they should let any player who signs with them keep one of these gems upon graduating.

SDSU currently shares a stadium with the NFL Chargers. 

The Chargers are taking a hard look at moving to Los Angeles, as are the Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams.  The last time the NFL had two teams in LA, both USC and UCLA were very mediocre.  The NFL absorbs fan dollars that normally goes to collegiate programs.  When that occurs, FBS college programs in an area usually "underperform" and draw smaller crowds.

Again there are only 3 FBS programs in Southern California. 

If USC and UCLA take an NFL dive and a jilted San Diego Fan base embraces the local Aztecs, SDSU could become a really big time program for the Big 12. 

San Diego State is lower than you'd like academically for a power conference school, but not embassingly so.  One of their biggest issues in that regard is an extremely high 28:1 student teacher ratio.  If $5 Million from their Big 12 TV windfall was earmarked for entry level professors to attack that problem, they would likely jump up about 10-15 spots into tolerable power conference territory.  (There is a great precedence of this in-conference. UT earmarks $5 Million annually from their LHN deal for academics.)

I would make that a cost of doing business.

Plus they have academic positives.  SDSU is probably the second best academic school in the California State system behind Cal Poly, and the best of the branded "California State" schools. That is a big system of high enrollment schools. 

The PAC will never invite SDSU because the "University of California" system which Cal and UCLA belong to has a more nationally appreciated academic design (one that strongly encourages research), while the CSU system is about producing undergraduate degrees.  

This puts a cap on SDSU and Fresno State's athletic growth potential.  This is a huge point of contention with CSU schools' alumni.  The Big 12 can pry off that cap on the CSU system by inviting SDSU.  If they do, not only could SDSU emerge as the system's acknowledged standard bearer, there is an Oregon/Miami-level national football program that could emerge there in the Big 12.

They have the potential of being another western King.  In a western division with SDSU, BYU could pull supplemental talent from Southern California as well as DFW.

This kind of expansion would likely increase the talent at all three incoming western schools as well as giving Texas Tech, TCU, KSU, and potentially both Oklahoma schools access to California blue chippers as a supplemental source.

All three schools have NCAA tournament-level basketball programs. This trio just hits every need of the conference.  But there is a demographic and travel cost that Big 12 schools do not want to endure. 

Here's how you mitigate that.

Taking an academic and demographic turn in California

Adding this trio, and specifically SDSU, opens the door for a move that would strongly pique UT's interest in staying long term --- adding elite level academic and research schools from the University of California system as Olympic members in return for their value in helping the Big 12 form an academic consortium. 

I am envisioning something like the Big 10's CIC that could be structured specifically to coordinate pooling academic resources and pursuing research funding cooperatively.

UC Davis (US News #44 with about $725 Million in annual research), UC Irvine (#39 about $350 Million), and UC Riverside (#122) would be the schools that I would target.  All three are indisputably power conference-caliber academically.  (The trio also happen to combine to yield an optimal geographic recruiting addition.)

I am talking about leveraging a pittance of TV money into a much better conference academic identity.

SDSU and the Cal State schools are not the only California schools frozen out of the big time payouts of high level athletics by the PAC-12's position on California expansion.

In the Big West, the trio were part of the push that invited SDSU as an Olympic member to try and kick start the conference's fan support in basketball (arguably with soccer their only revenue generating sports).  The more money that an athletic program in California generates, the less a California president feels heat.

Again a win-win deal can easily be brokered here due to the money involved.   

Getting funding earmarked for a university's sports' annual financial shortfalls is an absolute beating for a California public university.  An $8 million annual TV check earned by athletics earmarked for athletics would end a lot of endless discussions these UC school presidents really loathe having.

The UC schools would play their Olympic sports in a division with SDSU, BYU, and CSU.  That is not an expensive travel division.  Between the 4 California PAC-12 schools, the Big West schools,  the WCC schools in California, Sacramento State and the two Nevada MWC schools, there are plenty of local opponents that would offer cheap travel out of conference as well.

Davis and the other UC schools would bring added chops to a Big 12 academic consortium.  Having such a thing would make it harder for UT  leave than today's 10 member Big 12 or a 12 team version.

The $8 Million share each would receive would have minor terms affixed. At least $1.5 Million of it annually would need to be added to their coaching funds with the goal of employing  a coach who has taken a team to at least 4 NCAA tournament appearances.  (Imagine say Bruce Pearl, Tim Floyd, and Kelvin Sampson at these schools.) Another $1.5 Million a year would need to go into basketball supporting facility upgrades.  The universities can put the rest towards their athletics bills.

The Big 12 would be targeting markets of Southern California as well as large population areas in California with weaker PAC-12 influence. 

The PAC 12 owns California because they own the two most powerful universities in the two major markets on the heavily populated California coasts.

They have no intention of ever admitting another California school.  Opportunities exist for the Big 12 in California outside of Los Angeles in San Diego and the Southern California urban sprawl as well as in inland Northern California.

SoCal is combination of markets totaling 27 Million people. To put his in perspective, the "Chicagoland" metro area that we are all familiar with has a population just under 10 Million.

To ask SDSU alone to provide the required media attention is a lot to ask.  SDSU as a lone member has never really delivered the Southern California media for it's conferences. 

But that should not be taken as a slight to SDSU.  Even the PAC-12 has 4 schools to deliver statewide influence in California.

Given that there are only 3 FBS programs in Southern California (SDSU, then ULCA and USC in LA proper) , why not elevate the level of two basketball programs in strong locations in the So Cal region to help SDSU deliver media relevance? 

Riverside is well placed to become a dominant program in the Inland Empire, an area of 4 Million people.  Irvine is in Orange County, well south of UCLA, USC, and an hour south of the Staples Center where the NBA Lakers and Clippers eat all of the public's basketball entertainment dollars.  There is enough breathing room there to let both programs grow a lucrative audience from the general public in a better conference.

Here is a county map from that helps conceptualize the So Cal goal.

Davis is an a great position too.  They are a straight shot down highway 80 20 miles from Sacramento - a top 20 market.  Given the geographic separation and the fact they have a large enough enrollment and alumni base to leverage,  they are unlikely to ever have an issue with being unable to sell a good number of tickets to Big 12 basketball games because of the NBA in Sacramento proper. 

And should they ever decide to play football in the Big 12, that is an NFL sized market starving for football every fall.  Davis would draw very well. (Should they ever go that route, Davis could quickly become a dominant football school, with a strong hold of the California Inland strip recruiting.  Think Fresno State, but better.)

In short, adding this trio enhances the possibility of retaining UT, improves the viability of California recruiting in So Cal and the inland strip, and provides good content for the network in non-football sports. 

Managing travel and other issues with a Western division

By creating a 6 team western division, you can add the FBS trio you really need as all-sports members in a way that eases in-conference bitching about remote members and travel costs while also creating the ability to mask the deficiencies in the UC programs as those programs develop via creative scheduling.

At this point, you set the expectation that expansion is mostly done.  Announce that you are done with adding all-sport members and this is your conference footprint going forth although you will look at some associate members in a few month.

It may not seem like it to the casual fan, but the conference would have added So Cal in the strongest way available to any other power conference.   Given the scarcity of California schools functioning at this level of athletics, what would appear on paper in any other state to be somewhat marginal is actually quite impactful in California.

The conference will have a legitimate recruiting foothold in California, a state that produced 229 3 star athletes with 44 blue chip athletes last year.

You can push the facts to the press that you have 3 of the top 5 and 4 of the top 10 media markets.

You will have a legitimate media presence in California as well as Colorado and Utah bringing the conference footprint total to 86 Million ---a footprint size more or less in line with the other power conferences'.

The Media Sucker punch ---- East to Florida

I think when you have announced your conference footprint and made the point that it rivals's other power conferences' footprints and that message has set in, it is time to hit the media with your associate schools to level out scheduling.

I think you need to add 2 schools from Florida.

The Big 12 is in such a hole with regards to TV households, that I think it isn't enough to add California.  Plus that only would help a few Big 12 schools with recruiting.

A lot of fans really like the idea of adding one of the two "power conference ready" Florida commuter schools.  (Florida has three commuter giants, The University of South Florida [enrollment 48,000], The University of Central Florida [enrollment 60,000], and the less athletically developed Florida International [enrollment 54,00].  All three schools are among the 10 largest universities in the nation.)

There are a lot of positives to this line of thinking.  Florida produces just as much football talent as Texas, but there are only 7 FBS schools in Florida.  Last year Florida produced 306 three star or better players.  Last year the average FBS program signed 23.6 players.  At that rate, the 7 Florida FBS schools would only have slots for 165 of them. 141 of them have to go elsewhere.

Most Florida football players for this reason are much more open to playing in other states.  (West Virginia recruited Florida very well for years in the Big East.)  Florida's three star players know they may need to go out of state to get a scholarship offer. If the Big 12 can mark their territory and make a good argument for being a "Florida conference"  they can recruit Florida very well.

USF is in the Tampa Bay DMA.  UCF is in the Orlando DMA.  These are 2 of the three largest DMAs in Florida. (FIU is located in Miami, the third.)  Most of these commuter giants' former students live in those respective DMAs.

Today, they do not have the depth of fan base where either UCF or USF would deliver statewide media relevance. (Although admission to a power conference could certainly change that in a hurry.  Still... it isn't a given.)

Both schools have some academic red flags due to their mission of generating large numbers of degreed students (many in math and the sciences).  In spite of some very admirable accomplishments, the Florida giants' rankings are suppressed and subsequently their reputations takes some hits due to ridiculously poor student/teacher ratios, something US News weighs.

A power conference knuckledragger (let's define that as say from Oregon State ---US News #139---to West Virginia ---US News #179) usually will have student to teacher ratios in the 16-20:1 range.   USF's is 24:1 and UCF's is a crazy 31:1.

UCF (US News # 170) is ranked as a peer to Texas Tech (#169) and Louisville (#172).  USF (#156) is ranked slightly higher as a peer to Mississippi State (#165).  Not exactly the cream of the power conference ranks academically. (Everyone connected to a University complains about US News rankings, but they still pay attention because parents trust it. Perception, to a degree, is reality.).  

As a full member, a conference cannot really distance from those kinds of rankings. 

The 10 member Big 12 already has four of the ten lowest ranked schools in the power conference ranks.  Among the proposed additions, SDSU is still in that grouping today.

Adding two more as all sports members won't sit well with UT's leadership.  Adding the Florida giants' football programs help and excite the rest of the conference a lot more than UT...

Plus their Olympic sports are marginal, which means admitting them as full members would hurt the conference putting teams into the NCAA tournament, limiting a lucrative source of conference revenue.

Now why do I bless the UC trio's marginal basketball programs and shun the Florida giants' programs?  There are reasons.  In terms of network content, the UC school's offerings (soccer, volleyball, water polo, etc.) make more sense.

While adding the Florida giants as full sports members rather than associates would be adding 2 more perceived academic knuckledraggers to what is already by far the worst academic conference in the power conferences, the UC trio are good academic and research schools who would add academic value to the Big 12 that is hard to come by at this point. 

Plus, to me, it seems like a step to far to rely on a school trying to bring multiple athletic programs up to power conference snuff.  With the UCs, it is just basketball.  Basketball is their only athletic program that can generate TV revenue. 

Basically neither Florida school is ripe as a power conference candidate, but the Big 12 (including UT and OU) could really use them now for football recruiting and TV viewership.

My solution is to announce the addition of a pair of football-only associate members a month down the road in UCF and USF.

The only part of USF and UCF athletics which is worth power conference money now are their football programs.  Combined, with their large alumni bases in Tampa and Orlando, they would definitely give the Big 12 media relevance statewide and recruiting relevance in Central Florida.

This approach gives the Big 12 all the benefits the Florida giants offer today as the two schools tweak their methods a bit to be a more complete power conference all-sports candidate down the road.

Some fans will point at travel and swear even a football-only membership is untenable.  That is crazy talk.  Adding only these two as football only-members would amount to one trip a year to Florida for six Big 12 schools.

That is it.

It is absolutely no different from playing one of them in football out of conference (which some Big 12 schools have done recently.)

Should both schools ramp up their basketball down the road and get full membership invites, it still only amounts to a single annual trip to Florida per sport as both schools can be visited on one trip.

(I would also write in a clause where neither school has a vote if the conference should eventually consider adding FIU as well. Member schools often campaign to block the addition of in-state competition.  We want none of that.)

The American Conference, both schools' current home, pays member schools $2 Million a year in TV revenue.

Getting 8 times as much to be a football-only member of the Big 12 (for now...) would make playing as an Olympic-only member in a lesser conference quite tolerable.

That represents a sensible addition and a win-win scenario for both parties.

To ease UT's likely concerns, admission would require both giants to also earmark $5M annually off the top for academic investment --- specifically to hire more entry level professors and dramatically reduce the student /teacher ratios at both schools to levels appropriate at the power conference level.

This set up offers a lot of membership flexibility down the road which I'll cover in the "down the road" article.

In this kind of scenario, UT (with Charlie Strong) and OU would certainly be able to recruit Central Florida for blue chippers.  West Virginia would have their Florida recruiting pipeline back. The rest of the Big 12 east division could pick up 3 star players from the region.

This is a minimal investment move with a big return, but is only part of the solution to the Big 12's numerous problems.  Avoiding subpar basketball schools doesn't make the conference more money in basketball, for example.  This kind of move does nothing to improve academics --- the real key to building a home UT won't leave which is why you have to look west for all sport members.

Final product.

Here's what we come out with.


And here's our influence map.

Now I definitely gave Davis and the UC schools too much love on this map for where they would be upon admission.  They won't be ever be more popular than PAC schools without football, but the point of this map is not pinpoint accuracy,  it is to show where you might have legit, saleable TV viewership.

This compares well to the other power conferences.

Remember we talked about the conference spine and turning Big 12 small state clustering from a negative to a positive?

The only positive having a cluster of paired universities like that offers is the opportunity to "zipper them in divisions.  Having a North/South run in a centrally located conference like exists today in the Big 12 is ideal for this strategy.

Lets take a look at this strategy applied.

West Division East Division
San Diego State Central Florida
Brigham Young South Florida
Colorado State Houston
Texas Tech Texas
Texas Christian Baylor
Oklahoma State Oklahoma
Kansas State Kansas
Iowa State West Virginia

This puts 8 teams in each division, creating 7 in-division games.  Power conferences usually play 9 games.  The last two games would be played against out of division foes, allowing the conference to tailor idealized schedules for nationally relevant members.

The rule would be to enhance recruiting where needed and protect historic rivalries from the zipper.  So games 8 and 9 would probably be:

West Division Week 1 Week 2
San Diego State Oklahoma West Virginia
Brigham Young West Virginia Houston
Colorado State Central Florida Kansas
Texas Tech Texas Baylor
Texas Christian Baylor Texas
Oklahoma State Houston Oklahoma
Kansas State Kansas South Florida
Iowa State South Florida Central Florida
East Division Week 1 Week 2
Central Florida Colorado State Iowa State
South Florida Iowa State Kansas State
Houston Oklahoma State Brigham Young
Texas Texas Tech Texas Christian
Baylor Texas Christian Texas Tech
Oklahoma San Diego State Oklahoma State
Kansas Kansas State Colorado State
West Virginia Brigham Young San Diego State

The games would flip home teams every two years.

Texas, West Virginia, and Oklahoma would be able to recruit Florida with great success.  Baylor should also do pretty well in Florida.  OU and OSU would be able to recruit Houston better vs. A&M.    BYU would be able to recruit Southern Cal, Inland California, Colorado, DFW and Houston.  Tech, TCU, CSU, OSU, and KSU should be able to pick up supplemental recruiting in California.  Houston, UCF, and USF should all recruit better for being in a power conference.

All of those schools should be better for this arrangement.

Basketball and Olympic sports.

The conference would have 12 NCAA tournament bubble caliber teams to start.

I have set these divisions up to limit travel and provide a good recruiting area in each market (west=SoCal, South= Texas, North= Illinois), but it might make sense to swap OU & OSU for West Virginia and St. Louis should OU request it.

Presumably the conference would play 18 game in-conference basketball schedules as most power conferences do.  This works out to 10 games vs. divisional opponents and another 8 out of division.

I would think you start at the top in each division and play the best in each of the other division head to head, plus a road game against their travel partner to make a trip convenient. That would be 6 games, then either a fixed or a randomly selected pair for a series with being at home or on the road balancing the schedule.

So for example:

One year UT would play their Texas and Oklahoma rivals home and home, #1 seed Kansas home and away, Kansas State away, #1 seed San Diego State home and away, UC Irvine away, and random pair home say West Virginia and UIC.

The next year UT would play their Texas and Oklahoma rivals, #1 seed Kansas home and away, Kansas State away, #1 seed San Diego State home and away, UC Irvine away, and random pair at home say Colorado State and BYU.

Whereas OU might prefer a fixed annual opponent pair.  They might play their Texas and Oklahoma rivals, #3 seed Iowa State home and away, St. Louis away, #3 seed Colorado State home and away,  BYU away, and fixed pair at home say Kansas and Kansas State.

The next year OU might play their Texas and Oklahoma rivals, #3 seed Iowa State home and away, St. Louis home, #3 seed Colorado State home and away,  BYU home, and fixed pair Kansas and Kansas State away.

I think what should be coming through is that none of this travel is too difficult.

TV, Academics, and recruiting

This conference would have statewide media relevance in California and Florida due to the relatively few high level D1 schools in each state and the large alumnibases being brought in.  They would have media relevance in Missouri and Illinois due to placement and for Illinois a large alumnibase for UIC.

They would have fairly strong media support in Colorado and very strong support in Utah.  BYU's scattering of fans across the west would likely help the tier 1 &2 rights in other states more noticeably than any conference network value.

Still that amounts to a conference media footprint of  107 Million people.  That's a great number to leverage vs. a conference network.

The new Olympic and all sports adds would move the conferences' average US News score from 114.6 --- lowest in the power conferences --- to 106.9, still the lowest, but just slightly behind the SEC's 102.  If SDSU's can drop their student to teacher ratio to 20:1 the Big 12 might edge ahead.

The new members would bring UC-Davis, a very strong research school and several others ---UIC, CSU, UC-Irvine --- that bring a culture of commitment to research that UT would enjoy seeing the other schools embrace.

The conference would work as almost 2 entities in football.  Looking at last year's numbers, the western division states would have generated 598 three star or better players with 103 of those being blue chippers.  The east 629 three star or better players with 102 blue chippers.  Those are numbers that would allow you to keep up with the SEC.

(Now in some ways I am being a little statistically misleading as I am counting most of the existing conference total twice here, but it is really no different than looking at those schools all recruiting Texas only now. Misleading perhaps in some ways --- dishonest, no. If you count the totals together, the new power conference footprint would have yielded 913 & 152.)

Final "BIG" thoughts

If the resulting conference isn't any worst off than the SEC academically, every members school can recruit at a power conference level ---if not an SEC level,  and the financials are strong....this plan may prevent UT and OU from leaving.

But the Big 2 might be driven by something else at that point and could leave anyway.

Let's say that happens.

The difference between what a minor expansion today does for you and what I propose is pronounced.

Should UT, Kansas, and OU leave say a 12 team conference with BYU and Cincinnati in it, is that Big 9 likely to win that fight with the American?   Are they likely to retain BYU?  Would the Big 9 simply be another American in the non-power conference ranks?

The recruiting is going to be bad in that conference which means the schools will underperform due to inconsistent depth.  Will they be able to land the schools that would deliver a healthy footprint at that point?

Forget about the Big 2 for a second and look at the big picture.  Adding my prescribed schools now amounts to leveraging UT and OU into a more secure future. 

Even if the Big 2 leave after this bold expansion is implemented, they would still leave the New Power Conference with a great recruiting footprint and a conference network leveraging a heck of a lot of TVs. 

Should the Florida giants step up their basketball and tidy up their student teacher ratios, it would be very easy to pull them in as very sound power conference caliber full members.  Perhaps UC-Davis or another non-football member might be ready to play FBS football at that point. Perhaps potentially valuable schools like UNM, UNLV, UAB, Memphis, or Tulane might look a lot more academically or athletically desirable 10 years from now.

What I am getting at is that the conference would have a chance.

It would have a chance to hang on to UT and OU.

If they left, it would have a chance to possibly make a claim at being at least somewhat power conference-like and retaining some of the money.

On today's path, they don't have that.

>>> Post script:  I had intended to print this article and the minutia article tonight, but I have apparently accidentally deleted the minutia article.  It was quite long and I am a little despondent right now and burnt out on the topic, so for now this is it.


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  2. This was a great set of articles to read.
    BYU has actually came forth saying they want to be in the BIG 12. They dont really broadcast many football games anyway since ESPN made a contract. I could see them committing to the BIG 12 and the BIG 12 network if they were invited.

    Questions, Everyone is worried about their BYUTV network however, for the most part they just use it to broadcast reruns as well as sports that are not normally covered by any TV channels. I am new to the TV broadcasting game but would having reruns of games in all sports on BYUTV be much of a money problem for the conference? This is an honest question because I do not know what the feelings are about reruns. As for sports that normally do not get much TV exposure would having them be on BYUTV be a bad thing?? as long as it was after national TV or after the BIG 12 network had first choice of course?

    Anyway it was a good read.
    Thank you.