The biggest topic of conversation in the college football preseason is expansion. The Big 12 announced it intends to expand beyond its 10 current members, and after putting out feelers to gauge interest, the conference asked prospective schools to apply.
Per ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, the Big 12 is now taking the next step. Conference officials will meet with 17 schools who have listed an interest in joining the conference.
First, the details. The 17 schools who will make presentations come from the following leagues:
American Athletic Conference (10): Cincinnati, Houston, South Florida, Central Florida, Connecticut, Memphis, Tulane, Temple, East Carolina, and Southern Methodist
Mountain West Conference (4): Colorado State, Boise State, New Mexico, San Diego State
Mid-American Conference (1): Northern Illinois
Sun Belt Conference (1): Arkansas State
FBS Independents (1): Brigham Young
Now some thoughts:
-This is a really bad look for the AAC. McMurphy’s report is saying it’s incredibly likely that the Big 12 will expand by two and not four. That means that 15 teams will have to return to their former hunting grounds. When you’re one team, you can go back to your league and tell them you just wanted to see what it was all about, that you’re still committed to the current situation while just putting feelers out there. It’s easier for one school to ask forgiveness from the other 12 or however many it is.
The AAC instead looks like a conference that’s held together by twine and chewing gum, no different from the end of the old Big East’s last days. In Requiem for the Big East, Rick Pitino talked about the climate of that conference. His AD said to him, “All of these schools are all in the room saying, ‘Oh we’re all in.’ But the minute they leave that room, they’re on the phone with the ACC, the Big Ten trying to get in.”
This is no different. I’ve called the league an island of misfit toys, a basketball school in a rebuilt football conference. All of the schools in the league - Temple, Tulsa, UCF, SMU, Houston - they’re all a bunch of football schools who are all flawed in that they outgrew their old conferences and couldn’t play with the big boys. The AAC gave them that outlet, and they developed a pretty good league together. But instead of developing that league into something special, they’re all trying to jump ship. Nobody can apparently trust anyone in that league.
-Whoever is chosen is going to be validated very well. Because there’s 17 schools for essentially two spots, the chance of getting in drops from nearly one out of four to only 11.8%. It also means easily overlooked issues are now potentially big time problems. Brigham Young seemed like a slam dunk for one of the spots, but their stance on sexual orientation is a longstanding issue in athletics. They also have a policy of not playing games on Sunday because of religious guidelines. All of a sudden, that casts doubt on the league’s willingness to bend.
-Some schools make absolutely no sense, so meeting with 17 schools is completely excessive. I can’t ever see a situation where the Big 12 would accept Northern Illinois or Arkansas State. NIU is a historical MAC power, and while money is the driving force here, I can’t ever believe it would be a good idea to move. That said, they would bring the Chicago media market, which invades Big Ten country very nicely.
Arkansas State is just silly. Yes, they won the Sun Belt last year, but from a market standpoint, there are so many better options. Winning that league four times since 2010 does nothing to move the needle on them for anyone outside of Golden Boot territory.
-UConn’s candidacy takes a hit and ratchets up the pressure. The Connecticut fan base is rabid enough about their school to draw attention, and the Napoleon complex they exhibit made the school incredibly profitable. They constantly have something to prove to everyone. But I still think their best shot of getting into the league was with four slots. As much as they do present an intriguing offer, I’m still sold on Cincinnati and Houston over them. Their meeting and presentation needs to be rock solid and perfect, and they need to hope the other schools make subtle mistakes.
In the spirit of this week, consider UConn like a fourth place Olympic gymnast. They can win gold or silver, but they need the top two spots to make a mistake, then they need to execute an absolutely flawless routine. Even then, it might not be enough, but at least they can leave it all on the table.
-This situation is so fluid that anything I just said might be 100% wrong and totally, utterly insane.