Publish date:

It's time for the Big 12 to be the Big 12

Now that we know it won't be raided by the Pac-12, the Big 12's path to survival is through aggressive expansion.

And so it's done. To the surprise of no one, the Pac-12 announced Thursday it will not pursue expansion. There are no rumblings of the Big Ten and ACC growing beyond 14 and 15, respectively, either. The big move those three had in response to the SEC's annexation of the Red River Rivalry was creating The Alliance, thereby designating the Big 12 was the clear No. 5 in the Power 5.

In other words, today should be the first day in the rest of the Big 12's life. We're five days from the 25th anniversary of the inaugural Big 12 game -- Kansas State 21, Texas Tech 14 -- and Aug. 26, 2021 should be about plotting the conference's next quarter century. 

It should be about putting the Big, and the 12, back in Big 12.

If I'm in charge of the conference, I go get BYU, Boise State, UCF and Cincinnati and I go get them today.

None of the four require much explanation, but here's a short one.

BYU: BYU is easily the most 'Power 5' school not in the Power 5. It has a modern-day national championship and plays in a 64,000 seat stadium it regularly fills. Its $1.8 billion endowment would be the largest in the Big 12 and larger than Oklahoma's, Alabama's and Nebraska's, to name three blue-bloods. 

Boise State: A natural rival to BYU, and their history of staging epic games with TCU in the semi-recent history doesn't hurt, either. I'm building this conference with staging compelling football games as my first, second and third priorities, and people know Boise State football.

UCF: If it were possible to invest in college football programs, UCF would be the stock you'd purchase. A massive university with a young, energetic alumni base, UCF has appeared in New Year's Six bowls under three different head coaches since 2013, which is two more than Texas. UCF joining the Big 12 may not inspire Orlando-area kids to spend their college years in Lawrence or Manhattan, but there's more than enough evidence UCF would carry their own weight athletically and financially.

Cincinnati: If it's possible to be old money and new money at the same time, that's Cincinnati. This program is where TCU was a decade ago, with purple exchanged for red. The Bearcats have been in a zillion conferences and won all of them, and Luke Fickell has built a sustainable program. Again, no promises Ohio kids would want to play Big 12 football, but the Bearcats would compete immediately. 

In short, I'm getting the best football team (Cincinnati), the best football job (UCF), the best football brand (Boise State) and the best overall university (BYU) available. 

No, the money may not make sense on a spreadsheet as we sit here today on the eve of the 2021 football season. The best estimates indicate the Big 12's TV payout may drop from $24 million to $12 million per school once Texas and OU leave, which is A) half of what they currently earn, and B) still nearly double the $7 million the AAC schools earn. 

It's certainly plausible an estimated $12 million per school payout for eight teams drops to, say, $10 million per school at 12 teams. But how can the conference expect to thrive from a crouched position?

Look, this alignment isn't perfect. Each of these four schools have their drawbacks -- if they didn't, they'd be in the Big 12 right now. A conference that stretches from Orlando to Boise, from Morgantown to Provo is the furthest thing from ideal. A West Virginia vs. Cincinnati Big 12 football game sounds weird to me, too.

But given the imperfect options, this is how I divide the conference. 

Big 12 East
West Virginia
Cincinnati
UCF
Iowa State
Kansas
Kansas State

Big 12 West
Oklahoma State
Baylor
TCU
Texas Tech
BYU
Boise State

As for the championship game, the TV viewer in me wants to see a packed, snowy Milan Puskar Stadium on the first Saturday of December instead of a half-full AT&T Stadium. But the spiteful conference executive wants to sign a 25-year lease because screw the idea of letting the SEC even think about moving its title game from Atlanta to Dallas. 

It's time for the Big 12 to go on the offensive, to do something. Stage interesting football games and the rest will take care of itself in time. It's time for the Big 12 to be a Big conference with 12 teams. It's time for the Big 12 to be the Big 12 again.