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Big 12 reportedly setting sights on four expansion targets

After years of inaction, existential crisis has inspired the Big 12 to finally go on the offensive.

The Big 12 is taking my advice -- sort of.

It was a week ago today that I wrote, in the wake of the Pac-12 remaining at 12, it was time for the Big 12 to get back to being Big and 12 by expanding with UCF, Cincinnati, BYU and Boise State.

The argument there was the Big 12 would scoop up the best brand (Boise State), best team (Cincinnati), best potential (UCF) and best university (BYU).

The Big 12's committee on expansion agrees, to a point. According to The Athletic and the Dallas Morning News, the Big 12 is targeting BYU, Cincinnati, UCF and... Houston.

The appeal with Houston is obvious. It's the flagship school of the fourth-largest city in the nation, and the largest in the Big 12's footprint. The program can point to success both recently (2015 American and Peach Bowl champions) and historically (four Southwest Conference championships and Cotton Bowl appearances, one Heisman winner). 

While football undoubtedly drives this bus, Houston basketball is also a plus. The Cougars reached the 2021 Final Four, falling to national champion and Big 12 holdover Baylor. Cougar basketball also owns five previous Final Four trips, all since 1967, which would be more than any Big 12 school except Kansas -- more than Texas and Oklahoma combined during that span, in fact.

Houston, obviously, also brings prior history with Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech dating back to the Southwest Conference.

If the Big 12 reaches consensus on these four, the process could move relatively quickly. Chuck Carlton of the Morning News reported the process could be completed "within the academic year." 

As to when these four, or any expansion targets would actually begin play in the Big 12... that remains tricky.

Texas and Oklahoma's withdrawal date remains July 1, 2025 until it's not, and so those two sides are locked in a multimillion dollar game of chicken. The Red River rivals could leave for free if they wait until that date, at which point the Big 12's grant of rights expires and their obligation to the conference expires -- but each day beyond this season they remain Big 12 members is a day they fall further behind their future SEC brethren.

If the two schools leave early, the Big 12 would likely be in for a quick windfall of cash. Big 12 bylaws require 18 months advance notice and two years' worth of TV revenue, meaning if Texas and OU were to move east by 2023, it could cost $80 million apiece. Leaving in time for next season -- remember, Missouri announced its departure in November 2011 and was playing SEC games in September 2012 -- could cost even more.

On the other side, the American requires 27 months notice and a $10 million withdrawal fee. Losing UCF, Cincinnati and Houston would be just as devastating to the American as the Red River departure is to the Big 12, so we could see the same game of chicken play out on a smaller scale in that league. Meanwhile, BYU is an independent, so in theory they'd be free to join the Big 12 next season at minimal cost. 

There are many balls in the air floating around the Big 12's suburban Dallas headquarters, so it'll be interesting to see how Bob Bowlsby and company juggle them all. 

Friday Update: Brett McMurphy reports BYU could join the league as soon as next season, and all four newcomers could be in the conference before Texas and OU's scheduled departure.