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Football

WILLIAMS: Expansion-Palooza

I have a dream to someday write a book about all of the conference realignment that took place between the years 2010 and whenever this all comes to and end. For a guy who studied journalism along with political science but is also into sports, it is a perfect combination. I am obviously very passionate about Iowa State and its future too, which all of this will greatly impact.

 

On Tuesday, the Big 12 dropped a bomb on college athletics by informally announcing that the expansion process had begun. The league has hinted at growing for over a year now, but talk of it quieted earlier in the summer when it was all but said that a traditional conference television network was off the table due to concerns about the modern day media climate.

So what’s next? I will compile a few thoughts here and then follow up with answering some of your questions from Twitter.

This is about football.  

That’s where the money is. That’s what ultimately dictates the reputation that these leagues have nationally. Hypothetically, if football tradition was literally the only aspect of expansion that mattered, the four teams you add are Boise State, BYU, Houston and Cincinnati.

The Big 12 needs to learn from the Big Ten here. Sure, adding Rutgers and Maryland created revenue for Jim Delaney but in the year 2016, the Big 12 is in a much different spot than the Big Ten was during the last round of realignment. 

When you don’t have a television network to worry about, brands matter much more than perceived television eyeballs (nobody in New York actually cares about Rutgers). Adding those four programs would greatly enhance the Big 12 as a football conference, which ultimately is what I think is the most important aspect of expansion.

This is great for Iowa State football.

There is no discussion here: splitting the Big 12 up into two divisions is without a doubt the best scenario for the future of Iowa State football.

Still… 

I want to hear from Texas.

What changed?

In June, Texas’ new president and athletics director peed in the Cheerios of us expansion lovers?

Yesterday, the Big 12 unanimously voted to give commissioner Bob Bowlsby power to take the lead on growing the league. 

Is Texas really cool with this because at the end of the day, like it or not, the filthy-rich Longhorns still run the show. 

Why I don’t want the Florida schools in the Big 12.  

You will hear the word “dilute” be used a lot over the next few months, which brings me to Central and South Florida. Last season, South Florida’s average attendance was 26,578 while just over 30,000 fans went to Central Florida games.

Other candidates are similar: Colorado State’s average attendance was a dismal 24,917 and UConn’s was 28,224.

You know what it’s like when you’re watching a Big 12 game that’s being played at Kansas (average attendance of 27,282)? Bring those schools into the league and you will see that every Saturday.  

Having said all of that, if you add up the last five years when it comes to attendance, the numbers tell a slightly different story. 

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I get the whole, “opening up Florida” argument with recruiting. That made a lot of sense in 1995. College football is a national sport now though. Satellite camps exist. If Big 12 schools currently want to recruit Florida, they can recruit Florida. They already do.

Think beyond television.

The ACC and ESPN are going to roll out plans for the ACC Network today. It is supposed to launch in 2019 but what will television be like in 2019?

My estimation is that in addition to ESPN and FOX, the Big 12’s future will lie in the hands of a Neflix or Apple or HBO – something new and fresh.

A subscriber-based digital network is why the Big 12 should focus on bringing passionate fan bases with legitimate brands in as opposed to chasing a Rutgers, who lives in a large television market where nobody cares.

How many South Florida fans would subscribe to a digital Big 12 Network compared to Boise State?

The real key here…

…Is that when the league eventually expands, a new Grant of Rights is signed. That’s what the ACC did earlier this week and until 2036, that league doesn’t worry about being raided by the Big Ten or SEC.

The Big 12 needs to do the same, otherwise the constant speculation will never come to an end, regardless of who they add. 

I am hearing that the television networks do not want a massive round of Power-5 raiding realignment to occur so I think this is a strong possibility.

 

My candidate-by-candidate analysis, in order of the likeliness of an invite.

BYU – When it comes to football tradition and an overall athletics brand, BYU is easily the most attractive candidate out there for the Big 12. They are a pretty decent television draw too. A couple of drawbacks: BYU doesn’t compete on Sundays. Also, I have heard rumblings in the past about Big 12 football coaches not liking the idea of lining up against 24 and 25 year olds every week too. The Mountain time zone could be seen a plus or minus for the Cougars. I still think this is the top option.

Cincinnati – Solid athletics, a solid television market and quality academics. I don’t think this matters much, but Cinci is a nice school to pair with West Virginia out east too.

UConn – Great basketball, men’s and women’s. A guy could make a stretch that it would bring in an entirely new television market, although I truly believe that to be overrated these days. The only reason I rank them so high is based off of what other people have told me.

Memphis – It’s a new era and when you can bring a multi-million dollar sponsor to the table (FedEx), that’s a big deal for league revenue, which is ultimately what this all comes down to. Memphis has great basketball tradition but that isn’t the case in football, where the Tigers caught lightening in a bottle last season. I am not a believer that Memphis is a program that can be sustained over the long haul.

Colorado State – This is a dark horse that has picked up a lot of steam over the last week. As an academic institution, Colorado State is a spitting image of Iowa State and Kansas State. Colorado State is building a new stadium, has the Denver market and I’m sure some in the league would love to stick it to Colorado, who multiple sources has told me hates life in the Pac-12. But as noted above, on average, under 25,000 people went to Colorado State games last year. Does anybody care? That, and as an athletics department, Colorado State doesn’t really have a reputation for being very good at anything.

Houston – Because I am so concerned about this enhancing the Big 12’s football brand and not taking away from it, I like this move a lot. Houston could very well be the next TCU. The Big 12 already possesses the nation’s fourth largest television market (Houston) but this would help stave off the SEC invasion created by Texas A&M. Don’t want another Texas school? I get that, but no state in America has more high school prospects or is as passionate about football as Texas. I’m fine with adding another Texas school, but my guess is that others will not be.

South and Central Florida – I already made my point about these candidates. They seem like a desperation move that would simply water down the product.

Boise State – You add Boise for football reasons only. There’s really no other explanation. Academics are a joke and location is less than ideal.

The others: Tulane, Temple, San Diego State, Northern Illinois, etc. These schools have no chance.

Some Twitter questions. 

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A: Correct, he did say that. However, Snyder would also play in the old Big 8 if it were up to him. I don’t think Coach is thinking about much more than football and the good ole days. Having said that, I’ve heard multiple times that Colorado hates the Pac-12. He is probably onto something but don’t take it seriously. The four schools that left are not coming back.

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A: Correct, which is why I wrote that a new Grant of Rights is so vitally important for the future of the league. The only way that comes is with a new television deal.

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A: If the Big 12 is expanding, it’s expanding because Texas and Oklahoma want to. The league isn’t going to add anyone without their blessing.

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A: I think that the league will eventually expand by four. Three of the four will be BYU, Cincinnati and Colorado State. I’m honestly not sure on the fourth, but UConn or Memphis are probably the front-runners.

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A: To me, this was the best news that came from yesterday – that the Big 12’s presidents actually made a decision to give Bob Bowlsby full power here. That’s a big plus.

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