Its the off-season and conference expansion is all the rage. I too have written an article on conference expansion and the possibility of a Big 12 expansion. Then it hit me, losing Colorado to the Pac10 and Missouri to the Big Ten could actually benefit the Big 12!
Before I begin lets set two premises.
1. That both Missouri and Colorado leave the Big 12.
2. That the Big 12 does expand to replace them.
The main problem people have had with the Big 12 is that the conference it too bottom heavy. Texas, Oklahoma, and their in state partners basically run the show with the exception of Nebraska in football and Kansas in basketball. While both Colorado and Missouri will be missed they are not the backbone of the Big 12 or even the north division.
Since both would be departing members are leaving the north division logic says we must replace them with other northern universities, but the problem is that there aren't any reasonable universities around that would raise the conferences image. To the east Iowa, Minnesota, LSU and Arkansas have all been suggested but would not likely leave the Big Ten or SEC. To the west is only the 2nd tier Colorado schools or Wyoming which would weaken the North, and possibly the Utah schools but they are too far away to be realistic.
This only leaves to expand within. Tulsa, TCU, SMU, Houston, Rice, UTEP, and North Texas are all currently within the Big 12's conference footprint. Out of those TCU and Houston stand out as the schools with better athletics. In fact the main reason they were not invited to join the Big 12 was that they (along with SMU) were on probation during the end of the Southwest Conference. I'm not stumping for either teams just stating facts however you can chose any team (except Tulsa) for expansion for my scenario.
Now to divide the conference. Unlike some people who suggest adding TCU to the North division which I think is absurd, or randomly placing teams in two divisions non geographically like in a Great or Plains division (similar to the ACC with the Atlantic/Coastal) I think geographic division are the only option. In fact when looking at how successful the conference championship games (CCGs) have been in geographically divided conference (SEC & Big 12) verses non geographically divided conferences (ACC) its obvious that when the divisions are not easily recognized people's interest in the CCG is reduced because it is harder to follow throughout the season. Therefor the answer is clear.
MOVE THE OKLAHOMA SCHOOLS INTO THE NORTH.
This will not only allow the power to be evenly divided between the North and South but also reunite OU and OSU with its old Big 8 buddies (or whats left of them). This would also allow for more exciting and better CCGs like the SEC has instead of Texas or OU verse the weakly in the North it can be Texas verses Oklahoma for the Big 12 Championship (which it kind of already is anyways).
There will be problems. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will have fewer games in Texas which is their recruiting hot bed. Texas and Oklahoma will have to figure out a way to arrange the Red River Rivalry (Shootout) to play annually or give it up like OU and Nebraska had to when the Big 12 was formed.
But imagine the divisions.
Texas Tech/Oklahoma State
Texas A&M/Kansas State
Could it be more even?
The powerhouses Texas/TCU balance out Oklahoma/Nebraska while adding Houston to the South who has improved over the year isn't a traditional power helps balance out the less accomplished North schools.
Now for the hat trick, if only 1 school leaves the Big 12 should still do this by adding 3 schools in the new South. The new Big 14 (which the Big 12 has already trademarked) would continue its rotation of playing every team in your division (now 6 games) and 3 cross conference opponents (3 games) plus a news cross conference rival which is played every year (1 game) like TX/OU. That boils down to 10 conference games plus 2 out of conference games which works well for the Big 12 teams since we don't have many traditional OOC rivals i.e. Florida/Florida St.
Like the SEC did back in the 90's this would revolutionize college football and would give the Big 12's CCG more credibility since it would represent more teams. This would shift some power back to the North and allow the conference to look more well rounded. No one says the SEC doesn't have depth because their conference is more balance with Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia is the East and Alabama, LSU, Auburn in the West. If Ole Miss, Miss St, Arkansas, Vandy, Kent, and South Carolina were in one division people would perceive the conference as weak. Well that is how the Big 12 would be if you swapped Baylor with Nebraska.
While the Big 12 has been one of the more dominate conferences over the last two decades it must evolve to survive. Adding teams and realigning could secure better TV deals which could put more money in the schools pockets and then none of their schools would even consider moving to another conference.
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