The Big 12 is still talking about expanding. The trouble is there’s nowhere to expand. None of the candidates add value. It’s a choice of least bad options. Expansion is tossing in two (or four) wild cards to round out a wedding table.
Here’s a look at the candidates, in rough order of probability.
Cincinnati: Perhaps the best option. Not a great one. The Bearcats are okay at football. It’s 300 miles from Morgantown, which is sort of a “regional rival.” It’s better than adding a MAC school. But, you’re trying to compete for market share with Ohio State. Cincinnati isn’t on the radar.
BYU: The Cougars have a notable football team. No one wants to deal with a private religious institution that thinks it is Notre Dame and manifestly is not. If their brand were valuable, independence would be working and they would be the ones fending off the Big 12 and the Pac 12.
Houston: Houston would make Texas politicians happy. It does little else. You already have Texas, Texas Tech, Texas Christian, and Baylor. Sure, the Cougars are the current au courant program. That ends soon (perhaps next season) when Tom Herman takes a top job.
UCF: UCF is neither Florida, nor Florida State. Blake Bortles once went there, and beat Baylor. Last year’s team went 0-12 in the AAC. The primary arguments are population growth and what the Big 12 would help them do.
UConn: UConn is a small, solid athletics outfit. It’s also 500 miles further away than West Virginia. It doesn’t help the Big 12 penetrate the East Coast media market for TV or recruiting. But, hey, adding UCF and UConn could bring the “civil conflict” to the Power 5.
South Florida: Another large school in Florida that isn’t, won’t be, and can’t be Florida or Florida State. If Willie Taggart has them going, he would probably be coaching at a bigger school by the time the deal goes through.
Colorado State: Recent success. Building new stadium. Adding them highlights how the Big 12 is now second fiddle in Colorado.
Memphis: Good for a hot minute there under Justin Fuente, who is now coaching at Virginia Tech. The school has a strong relationship with FedEx. Feel the excitement.
Tulane: Solid academics. New Orleans is fun. Not going to compete at football.
Boise State: Built up quite the football program. School around it is nowhere near the stature of other Big 12 schools. Boise did crack the Top 100 in population during the last census, so there’s that.
Here are the reasons not to expand.
Expansion doesn’t help the Big 12 get a network. There’s no school the Big 12 can bring in at present that improves its probability of getting a network deal. Having the fourth best program in a state doesn’t claim it for the all-important footprint. The Big 12 would be adding inventory no one wants to watch. The only fans excited by the prospect are those of the aforementioned teams grasping for a golden ticket.
Expansion doesn’t help the Big 12 keep Texas. The Big 12 needs Texas. The Longhorns will have other options. The Big 12 schedule already looks bleak. Baylor has been scuttled. TCU and Kansas State won’t have historically great coaches forever. Do night games at Cincinnati or UConn help Texas build its brand?
Expansions reduces flexibility. College football looks like it is heading toward another major reshuffling next decade. Four 16-team conferences seems like the plausible stasis point. Why would you want to be less flexible heading into that? A 10-team Big 12 could look at the Pac 12 blunders, swoop in to steal six teams and secure itself as a super conference. A watered down 12-team or 14-team Big 12 is the conference getting plucked.