By Steven Lassan and Mitch Light
Texas A&M has announced its intentions to apply for membership in another conference, leaving the Big 12 with nine members at the start of the 2012 season. The conference is already looking into adding teams for next season, but the pool of candidates is thin.
Big 12 Expansion Candidates
Pros: As a service academy, Air Force has a national appeal and fanbase. Under coach Troy Calhoun, the Falcons have posted at least eight wins in each of the last four years. A good geographic fit for the Big 12 and would get the conference back into Colorado.
Cons: Although Air Force is a solid program, it doesn’t make the Big 12 any better. The Falcons would be a longshot to win the conference title in most seasons. Have also struggled to find success in other sports. Mission of the school doesn’t fit with BCS conference schools.
Pros: The Cougars would bring a very good football program into the Big 12 – one that could compete for a national title. Also, BYU could contend for a spot in the top 25 most seasons. A great geographic fit for the Big 12 and has a national fan base. Utah would be a new market for the conference.
Cons: None. BYU is the most logical and best target for the Big 12.
Pros: With Texas A&M departing, adding the Cougars would get the Big 12 back into the Houston market, which is one of the largest in the nation. Adding Houston doesn’t expand the conference footprint, but strengthens the Big 12’s hold in Texas. It’s a solid C-USA program that would raise its profile in a BCS league.
Cons: Facilities are a significant drawback and support has been an issue (though it would likely increase in a better league). Robertson Stadium opened in 1942 and is in need of renovations. The Cougars also need to upgrade their basketball arena. Houston has a very good coach in Kevin Sumlin, but it may need a few seasons before the program is ready to emerge as a realistic contender in the Big 12.
Pros: The Mustangs are finally digging out from the death penalty, making back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1983-1984. Located in a large market (Dallas) and a good geographic fit for the Big 12.
Cons: Support has been poor. SMU has never been consistently good when it was NOT breaking NCAA rules. Adding the Mustangs does not bring the Big 12 any new markets, only strengthens its hold in Texas.
Rumored candidates, but slim chance they join the Big 12
Arkansas – Although Jerry Jones might have some interest in his alma mater joining the Big 12, it’s highly unlikely the Razorbacks would leave the best conference in college football for the Big 12. Unequal revenue sharing and less stability with the Big 12 are other reasons Arkansas should be ignoring the calls from Dan Beebe.
Boise State - The Broncos are the top football team from a Non-AQ conference available to expansion. However, Boise State would be an odd geographic fit in the Big 12 and would not help to bolster the conference's television deal.
Louisville – Could Louisville be a target for conference expansion? Maybe – SEC? However, joining the Big 12 would be a downgrade for the Cardinals’ basketball team and would be a strange geographic fit.
Notre Dame – The Irish may eventually join a conference, but they have already committed to remaining an Independent for the foreseeable future.
Pittsburgh – Could have be a target of interest for the Big 12, had it lured Notre Dame and Louisville to create an Eastern edge. However, the Panthers are unlikely to leave the Big East, barring a collapse of that conference. Pittsburgh is a more realistic target for any future Big Ten expansion.
San Diego State – If the Big 12 wants to expand its geographic reach, San Diego State makes sense. However, the Aztecs aren’t a big draw in San Diego and would not upgrade the conference much in terms of football competitiveness.
TCU – The Horned Frogs make a lot of sense from a competitive standpoint. However, TCU would not add anything to the geographic footprint of the Big 12 and is committed to joining the Big East in 2012.