The tremors that shook college football during the wave of conference realignment, which sent West Virginia to the Big 12 Conference, has all but subsided as programs grow accustomed to their new conference homes.
That was the case until BYU Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall made the case for his program to be invited into the Big 12, as being an independent in this new era of college football seemingly gets tougher with each passing day. “I would love to be a member of that conference. I think that would make a lot of sense. In fact, if that was your headline, that would be great,” Mendenhall told Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman earlier in June.
However, the Big 12 essentially shut the door to any expansion discussions as West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said no program outside of the Power Five conferences would bring the same amount of revenue of the current 10 members of the league.
That makes the expansion topic very much an open-and-shut case, but what if Luck and the other nine athletic directors decide to jump from 10 members back to that matching the conference’s name?
Mendenhall’s push of BYU’s resume makes sense as a potential expansion choice with 15 winning seasons in the past 20 years, nine straight bowl game appearances, a 1984 National Championship and Ty Detmer’s 1990 Heisman Trophy win. The negatives weigh as large as the positives for BYU as no games are played on Sundays due to being part of the Mormon Church, and BYU is more than 1,000 miles from eight of the Big 12’s 10 members.
Instead of the Big 12, BYU would best be served to forgo its independent status and rejoin the Mountain West Conference which the program resided in from 1999 until 2010.
The Big 12’s best place to find expansion candidates, unless a lesser program rises in the coming years, would be the newly minted American Athletic Conference, specifically the Central Florida Knights and Cincinnati Bearcats.
The American’s inaugural champion, Central Florida, posted 10 winning seasons, two more conference titles in Conference USA in 2007 and 2010 and six bowl game appearances, including a win over the 2013 Big 12 champion Baylor in January’s Fiesta Bowl, since joining the FBS level in 1996. Cincinnati’s past decade has been the best on the field since the program’s first year in 1885 with six seasons with nine or more wins and appearances in five straight bowl games, including two BCS bowl berths in 2009 and 2010.
West Virginia would more than welcome the additions of Central Florida and Cincinnati, as the Mountaineers hold a combined 18-3-1 record in 20 meetings against the Bearcats and two against the Knights.
Central Florida and Cincinnati would not only expand the Big 12’s footprint farther east into two recruiting rich states, but also bring more television viewers with the No. 18 and No. 35 largest television markets in the United States, respectively.
Two new members for the Big 12 could likely allow for renegotiations of their television contracts with ESPN and Fox Sports for more revenue with the addition of a conference championship game at the end of the regular season. The Big 12 could follow the model of the championship game being held at a campus site instead of a neutral location, the program hosting would get another home game of additional revenue for the best regular season record.
If not now, the opportunity to increase revenue with two new members and a conference championship game will ultimately push the Big 12 athletic directors to open the league’s doors to future expansion.