If Monday's "Diddy gets into a fight with UCLA's strength coach" wasn't enough of an offseason story, the powers that be in college football made sure to get June in college football back on track: After a brief hiatus, incessant rumors about conference realignment have returned.
Just when you thought realignment was over -- the Internet has been flooded recently with realignment retrospectives five years after Nebraska signed with the Big Ten -- Oklahoma president David Boren decided it was time to fuel the fire again, telling the Oklahoman that he believes the Big 12 should pursue two more teams to get back to 12. Shortly after that came confirmation from Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby that each team's share of television revenue would actually stay the same if more teams were added, which is always the big expansion concern. Expansion makes sense only if new teams add appropriate value to the conference.
It took only a few hours for Memphis president David Rudd to not so subtly drop in with an announcement (an announcement of a future announcement?) of his own that tries to position the Tigers as a viable Power Five team:
Will be announcing new football & basketball facilities soon, stay tuned. Committed to competing at the highest level pic.twitter.com/BYYJoyuYLR- Dr. M. David Rudd (@UofMemphisPres) June 24, 2015
With the landscape relatively secure and the divide between the Power Five and Group of Five deepening, the Big 12 represents the last bastion of hope for those left behind as outcasts, for those who don't have a seat at the table. That's assuming the ACC doesn't implode one day, or the Pac-12 doesn't make another run at becoming the Pac-16.
None of the Big 12's options are perfect, which is why it has thus far stayed at 10 after the additions of West Virginia and TCU to fill the void left by Texas A&M, Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado, back in that time when a potential Pac-16 almost destroyed the Big 12. But that doesn't mean one or more can't eventually develop into an attractive member, if secured in the near future.
First, let's quickly look at the logical candidates, or at least those can who can be considered closest to logical.
BYU. The independent Cougars have a huge following with their connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have a national championship (1984) and a Heisman Trophy winner (Ty Detmer, 1990). They play in a stadium that seats 63,000 people and have a built-in television audience. They have played in 10 straight bowl games and finished in the top 25 four times in a row from 2006-09. Beyond a horrific road trip to Morgantown, W.Va., they're not a terrible geographic fit. The question is whether they're a cultural fit, given the religious ties of the school and the fact that BYU does not compete in any sports on Sundays.
Memphis. The Memphis area is a fertile recruiting ground and a good-sized television market. The Tigers are upgrading their facilities. The football program finally has momentum again, coming off a 10-3 season and the first top-25 finish in school history. While football is king, Memphis' basketball program would be an excellent bonus. The addition of Memphis would also at least give the Big 12 another team in the general direction of West Virginia.
Cincinnati. A perfect travel partner for West Virginia, as the Bearcats and Mountaineers shared the Big East for a decade and are located in neighboring states. Cincinnati played in back-to-back BCS games in 2008-09 and has been consistently competitive for most of the last decade. While still relatively small at 40,000 seats, Nippert Stadium just went through a renovation. Developing recruiting ties to Ohio and breaking into the solid Cincinnati market are a plus, although Cincinnati remains a little brother to Ohio State in Ohio, even if it's the biggest little brother in the land of numerous MAC schools.
UCF and USF. There was a brief moment in 2012 when it looked like Florida State and Clemson were plausible Big 12 candidates. These would be no-brainer, home-run moves for the league. They are also not going to happen. So, one option would still be to expand the Big 12 into Florida to become the second Power Five league with footholds in Florida and Texas, two of the big three recruiting states. UCF just built an on-campus stadium and has won the Fiesta Bowl. USF plays in an NFL stadium and has shown signs of life. Both are located in a state loaded with prep talent and television sets. A team named Central Florida traveling to Ames, Iowa, for a conference game would be bizarre, but so is Idaho playing in the Sun Belt and Iowa traveling to Rutgers in the Big Ten.
Boise State. In a perfect world in which on-field success is the chief reason for expansion, Boise State in the Big 12 would be a lot of fun. Sadly, on-field success is nobody's top reason, and the Big 12 is not clamoring for Idaho television money.
Connecticut. The ACC remains the Huskies' only hope, thus negating our hope for a new UConn-Texas Tech rivalry.
Houston and SMU. Both have exciting new coaches, and both have previous relationships with the Big 12's Texas schools from the Southwest Conference days. However, the Big 12 isn't about to add more teams from within the state of Texas, even if the TCU move has been a success for all involved.
Colorado State. Colorado was a member of the Big 12 and its previous incarnations from 1948-2010, so the league long had its footprint extend into the state. The Rams are also building a new stadium. Still, Colorado State and Fort Collins don't have the same history and sway of Colorado and Boulder.
Tulane. Forgettable football success, but a new stadium, strong academics and the fertile recruiting grounds of Louisiana.
UNLV. Just following the NHL's lead.
New Mexico. Upon expansion in the '90s, the Big 8 trademarked the name Big 14 in addition to Big 12. It looked at BYU and possibly New Mexico on top of the four Texas teams from the Southwest Conference, as crazy as it may sound now.
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In 1994, the AP described a potential new, unnamed marriage of Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech with the Big 8 as "one big made-for-television conference."
"We will be a mega-conference, one of the first," Kansas State president John Wefald told the AP at the time.
"It's another 12-member conference, and as long as everybody stays between 10-12, that's fine," Pac-10 executive director Tom Hansen said a few days later, before setting the table for the inevitable future. "That lends balance. But if people start getting into the 14- and 16-member range, we'll have a whole different animal. I wouldn't be surprised to see one or more additions to make some other 12-team leagues. But this might help avert the 16-member leagues, and that's good for college sports."
This is always the lesson: Realignment is never finished. Even as the landscape has appeared to stabilize over the last couple years, paranoia never stops and competition never stops. Every coach and administrator and every league is always worried about falling a step behind competitors, and everyone is attempting to maximize revenue and be one step ahead in maintaining stability. Once a made-for-TV mega conference, the Big 12 has lost much of the ground that it made up in the mid-'90s. After nearly folding, the Big 12 did its best to brand itself as the "One True Champion" conference with a round-robin schedule, but the entire campaign backfired, and it faces an uphill battle trying to convince everyone that 10 is equal to 12 or 14, even if 10 does have its benefits.
While nobody should add schools just for the sake of adding them -- especially since the rule requiring 12 teams for a conference title game may be abolished -- more teams means more games for television, means more possible bowl teams, means more possible NCAA tournament teams. Big 12 teams would have to take smaller shares of that postseason money (which accounts for 40-45 percent of revenue, according to Bowlsby) but depending on the expansion candidates, the number of postseason appearances can rise. Many of the options are already more competitive football programs than Kansas and Iowa State anyway, and the added exposure and money of moving to a power conference can spur further growth for a team like Memphis, UCF or Cincinnati.
Any new teams would be investments by the Big 12; it's just a matter of figuring out which schools are worth the risk, which schools might pay off with a little patience.
For now, Boren is just one voice -- although a highly influential one at one of the Big 12's marquee schools.
"It's my sense that the majority are either unsure or not supportive of expansion at this point," Bowlsby told CBSSports.com Thursday. "But David is a very influential member of our board and I think his comments will cause some to have pause and think about it again. David is obviously very politically savvy and insightful and very influential, so those are his thoughts on it and I'm certainly going to listen to them."
OU's Boren "pretty much alone" in wanting expansion among Big 12 presidents sources told @ESPN— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) June 25, 2015
Big 12 presidents overall may not be on board right now, but a conference of 10 teams remains an outlier. The Big 12 got left out of the first College Football Playoff, and it's the only major conference without a championship game. While panicking after one year would be foolish, expansion feels inevitable, whether it's next year or 10 years from now. History shows nothing is ever really stable in college sports, even when we think it is. Perhaps the Big 12 should be proactive this time, and perhaps Boren was prudent to get the conversation rolling again.
Even if there are no perfect candidates, expanding the conference's reach and television offerings makes sense in the long run. It's up to schools like Memphis and Cincinnati to prove that they're worthy of the investment.