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Should the Big 12 add national brand BYU or go for big East Coast markets?

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There are decent numbers of Cougars fans all over, but there are lots of television sets in Florida and Cincinnati. Let's see if one data source makes things clearer.

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

You've heard the arguments for and against some potential expansion candidates for the Big 12 a thousand times.

Cincinnati would be a traveling partner for West Virginia! USF and UCF are in recruiting hotbeds! BYU is pretty good at sports! Boise State might be better!

Perhaps it's time we wonder if any of these schools have actual fan connections with Big 12 country.

We checked with LinkedIn to find out where the graduates of each Big 12 school and the most frequently mentioned potential candidates (Boise State, BYU, Cincinnati, Memphis, UConn, UCF, USF) actually live.

Before you comment, we know this data isn't perfect. Not everybody has a LinkedIn account, but over 350 million people and hundreds of alumni from each of these schools do. There probably isn't a school that's dramatically overrepresented. It also doesn't differentiate between folks who graduated or attended, and it can't tell us about the average alum's level of sports fandom.

But which arguments does this data highlight?

BYU has potential Big 12 fans all over, with plenty in Texas.

Alumni in Big 12 cities, per LinkedIn
School Austin Dallas Kansas City Houston Oklahoma City Total
BYU 1,069 3,190 627 2,046 231 7,163
USF 510 1,295 209 966 79 3,059
Cincinnati 430 1,052 244 913 59 2,698
UCF 569 1,114 191 720 75 2,669
Memphis 316 1,254 211 704 68 2,553
UConn 319 511 90 461 47 1,428
Boise State 197 316 60 225 34 832

BYU might not have the most advantageous location, but if the Cougars are on the road in Big 12 country, it's a fair bet they're going to have fans paying to attend.

BYU has more alumni in these five major Big 12 metros than the Big 12's Iowa State (except in Kansas City) or West Virginia does, and more in Dallas alone than any other potential candidate else has total. Among all schools nationwide, BYU ranks 15th in Dallas and 24th in Houston, with top-25 showings in several other major west-of-the-Mississippi metros.

Florida's got big cities, which include Big 12 fans.

Big 12 alumni in potential expansion markets, per LinkedIn
Tampa (USF) 3,416
Orlando (UCF) 2,772
Cincinnati 2,282
Salt Lake City (BYU) 1,789
Memphis 1,504
Boise (Boise State) 881
Hartford (UConn) 872

USF's Tampa and UCF's Orlando happen to be the two largest TV markets on the list, a major realignment factor, with Cincinnati third.

Combining the Florida cities' metro populations would exceed five million people, which would be nearly the size of Atlanta. And the two schools' combined LinkedIn alumni (not necessarily fans) in Tampa exceed the University of Florida's, with 14,000-plus.

While the reasons to add those schools would have as much to do with TV contracts as with where alumni live, big cities with lots of transplants do tend to include people from all over, including graduates of Big 12 schools.

Big recruiting markets, too

Does this matter?

Maybe! Alumni distribution data isn't often mentioned as a primary factor in conference realignment. If it was, West Virginia wouldn't be in the Big 12.

But being able to show that you have fans who are local and will attend games isn't a trivial thing. The Big Ten wanted the potential TV sets that Maryland and Rutgers could deliver, but they also wanted to cement their presence in those cities, which were already significant hubs for Big Ten graduates.

Per LinkedIn, the Big Ten had over 68,000 graduates in NYC before expansion. That's more than UCF shows in its own city, which goes to show that the Big 12's options are limited.

Lots of factors would go into a Big 12 expansion decision, but this shows more reasons for the conference to look at BYU and UCF/USF/Cincinnati and be wary of UConn and Boise State.