After long contending that expansion was unnecessary, the Big 12, according to ESPN.com, is indicating that it hopes to make a decision on adding teams by October 17.
According to the same article, the shorter-short list is down to 12 schools: Air Force, BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, Colorado State, UConn, Houston, Rice, South Florida, SMU, Temple, and Tulane.
Though each of these options has its own set of pros and cons, what if the Big 12 will incur irreparable damage by choosing any of the schools still left standing?
Think about it this way, why is the Big 12 expanding? Is it to form bigger divisions for its league championship game, due to be reinstated in 2017? Is it to make the conference more comparable, in size, to the ACC (14), Big Ten (14), Pac-12 (12), and SEC (14)?
Or, is it to give it more weight when it comes down to the College Football Playoff committee making its decision?
The Big 12 is competing with the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC for a four-slot CFB Playoff. Until something changes, it’s five pegs vying for four coveted holes.
That means one Power league will be left out every single season. Add in a top-ranked Notre Dame team, and two conferences don’t get the opportunity to compete for a national title.
In a tie, the committee’s decision is going to come down to strength of schedule within each conference, even if it’s only perceived strength. And the only league which currently gets a pass is the SEC.
That basically leaves three slots for four conferences to argue, debate and yes, play themselves into.
Though having a member run the table is the best way to guarantee a place even that becomes an at-risk situation if the given team’s schedule is perceived as weak.
So, why wouldn’t the Big 12 add teams that would push their schedule strength decidedly above what is arguably the weakest Power league top-to-bottom—the ACC?
In other words, if it’s going to expand for a league title game and overall size, why not, while it’s already at it, add teams that will pull the conference’s strength of schedule up?
Adding Cincinnati and Houston, much less Colorado State and SMU, do nothing to boost strength, at best it would maintain the current level. That’s true even if Houston continues to thrive. At some point it’s logical to think that head coach Tom Herman will take the next step in his career. Rightly or wrongly, that would put the Cougars back at square one.
Things get even trickier when you split into divisions and stop playing every other conference member as is the case in the current format. Yes, not playing Oklahoma or Texas is good, that is, until you need that big win to make your case to the CFB Playoff committee.
Adding non-Power partners and splitting into divisions does nothing but dilute schedule strength.
The more effective approach—if the end game is creating a guaranteed slot like the SEC enjoys—is to quell all doubts by adding two current Power programs.
It’s time to poach.
The Big 12 needs to look for partner schools who can add prestige to the league, both academically and athletically, but who won’t be impossible to score wins against. So, while they do need a competitive Power program, they don’t need a Top 5 school.
On the flip side, a potential candidate needs to be willing. Either they are stuck in a league where they have no real identity, or they suffer from playing in a conference where their hopes of a Playoff slot are diminished by strength of schedule.
This makes the ideal target an ACC school, also, ironically the league that borrowed enough teams from the Big East to end its era as a football conference.
The other compelling argument for a team to leave the ACC, from a football standpoint, is the conference’s standing as an elite basketball league. An ideal target for the Big 12 is an ACC school that isn’t a basketball powerhouse, and doesn’t have a reason to stick around to amp up its national standing in that sport.
For those rightly concerned with the ACC’s 20-year grant of rights deal, making it as per ESPN.com “financially untenable for a school to leave,” it’s important to remember that other lucrative deals have been broken in the past. If not, the huge wave of recent conference realignment would have never happened.
Back in 2011, when Nebraska and Colorado fled the Big 12 for the Big Ten and Pac-12 respectively, the two schools were originally supposed to forfeit 80% of their Big 12 payout in 2009-10 and 2010-11. This per the established Big 12 bylaws.
Following the letter of the law would have cost Nebraska close to $20 million and Colorado $15 million. What really happened, to keep the case out of court, was a settlement. The Cornhuskers paid $9.25 million and the Buffaloes $7 million, or roughly half of what they owed.
And then there’s Maryland, which left, of all things, the ACC for the Big Ten in 2014. The league had originally determined that the Terps owed it $52.2 million, they settled for $31.4. That was $21.1 million less than the established agreement.
The ACC’s new grant of rights is stiffer still, but history proves that deals can be broken, especially if your partners have deep enough pockets.
Consider the following possibilities.
Perhaps the most compelling option, Miami hasn’t had an identity or any palpable football success since bolting from the Big East in 2004.
The Hurricanes’ run of titles as Big East members from 1991-2003 (nine conference and two national championships) ended abruptly when they joined the ACC. They are also the “second best” Florida team from the conference. Big 12 membership would mean being on par with Florida and Florida State as being a big-time player in its own big-time conference.
Miami would also earn the Big 12 a significant recruiting win by having its teams play annually in the richest-talent pool in the nation.
Everybody wins including fans across the map. Would you rather watch Oklahoma-UConn or Oklahoma-Miami?
Adding Georgia Tech with Miami or as a stand-alone could add serious long-term viability to the Big 12.
What hurts is that the Yellow Jackets don’t have an urgent need to leave the ACC. Tech has been a member of the league since dropping independent status in 1978. In that time, it’s won three conference titles and one national championship.
That said, if Georgia Tech were to win the ACC now, in the era of the CFB Playoff, it is plausible that it would be overlooked by an option with a bigger fan base. To illustrate, if Alabama won the SEC and then Georgia Tech, Texas, Ohio State, USC all captured the other conference crowns with one-loss a-piece, Tech would likely be left out in the cold. That wouldn’t necessarily be the case if Florida State or Clemson won the league instead, likely getting the nod or at least more serious consideration.
Pitt is the first of three options that would not only add a “bigger” name to the Big 12, it would help shore up West Virginia as a geographic partner.
The Panthers have only been ACC members since 2013, so it’s not like years and years of history, tradition and lore are tying them down.
Additionally, bringing in Pitt would give the Mountaineers more than a local team to play, it would renew the Backyard Brawl, one of many significant rivalry games lost to realignment.
Virginia Tech and Pitt would serve as a tremendous two-team combo to a possible North division. Like Georgia Tech, the Hokies have less reason to abandon the ACC as they’ve enjoyed plenty of success since joining in 2004.
Other than Miami, Virginia Tech would provide more attractive matchups than any of the other options. Again, when you start fantasizing about TCU-Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State-Virginia Tech, you see the bigger picture. Not only could the Big 12 boost its own viability by abandoning its list of final candidates, it could make college football even better.
Last but not least is Louisville, which joined the ACC in 2014. Though the move got the Cardinals off the sinking ship that was the Big East, their placement in the Atlantic Division means that they’ll always be in a three-way power struggle with Clemson and Florida State.
It’s as tough as a division as there is outside of the SEC West and the Big Ten East. Why the Cardinals didn’t negotiate themselves into the more wide-open Coastal is hard to understand.
For the Big 12, Louisville has it all, including a stepping-stone location between West Virginia and the rest of the league.
The issue is, why would they want to leave the ACC? The answer may be as simple as saying, would Bobby Petrino leave Louisville for the Oklahoma job?