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Ranking 8 candidates for Big 12 expansion by what the conference says it wants

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The Big 12 laid out its checklist for new members, so here's how the candidates stack up.

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

The Big 12 is back in the expansion business. The conference, apparently salivating at the ACC's new deal with ESPN, is newly exploring adding either two or four members to its current 10.

Fortunately for the Big 12, business is good. At least six schools that we know of (BYU, Houston, Colorado State, Memphis, Cincinnati and UCF) have sent the league pitch materials or made deeply public overtures, and UConn is frequently reported as a potential target. USF is also often mentioned alongside UCF.

Oklahoma president David Boren, one of the conference's most powerful figures, told reporters on Tuesday that the league has a checklist for new members. Its criteria, Boren said, are athletic department strength, fan base size, media market size, academic strength and "reputation," whatever that means.

In turn, here's how the Big 12 candidates stack up in those areas, based on public numbers that should at least approximate whatever data the conference is looking at.

1. Athletic department strength

We'll boldly claim that by "athletic department strength," the Big 12 wants good football programs, credible men's basketball programs and lots of money.

Here's the football equation. To explain it, S&P+ is a metric from SB Nation's Bill Connelly, which parses play-by-play data and adjusts for opponent to determine a team's true quality. Recruiting rankings are from the 247Sports Composite, which aggregates the major services' evaluations, from 2008 through 2015.

School 3-year S&P+ average rank 2008-'15 recruiting rank
BYU 37.7 57
Big 12 average 48.8 37.73
Houston 59 69
Cincinnati 60.7 60
Memphis 62 77
Colorado State 75.3 89
UCF 75.7 71
USF 89.3 53
Connecticut 100 78

Here's the men's basketball equation, told via the teams' average Ken Pomeroy rankings over the past three seasons:

School KenPom rank
Cincinnati 30
Connecticut 35
BYU 41
Big 12 average 54
Memphis 67
Colorado State 122
Houston 136
UCF 215
USF 239

And here's the money, told in the departments' total revenues for the most recent fiscal year reported on the U.S. Education Department's public website. We're not using net profits, because athletic departments regularly spend close to everything they earn in the name of being non-profits that aren't capable of paying student-athletes:

School Total AD revenue
Connecticut $72.2 million
BYU $59 million
UCF $51.9 million
USF $46.9 million
Houston $45.4 million
Cincinnati $42.9 million
Memphis $41.4 million
Colorado State $37.2 million

(There's a similar database at USA Today, and the figures on the two don't exactly align. We're using government filings.)

2. Fan base size

Average home football attendance for the last three years, plus recent student body size numbers:

School Attendance Enrollment
BYU 58,966 29,672
Big 12 average 57,941 28,601
UCF 36,654 60,821
Memphis 35,397 21,480
Cincinnati 32,569 44,251
USF 30,658 36,108
Connecticut 28,872 31,119
Houston 28,849 42,704
Colorado State 23,364 32,236

And here we've got some social media data, current as of July 19. "Facebook interest" denotes the social network's measurement of how many users are interested in the school's athletics. Facebook tracks this "interest" metric for virtually any big topic you can imagine:

School Facebook interest, rounded
Football Men's basketball Athletic department Total
Big 12 average 680,900 499,500 536,300 1,716,700
Connecticut 22,000 925,000 252,000 1,199,000
BYU 558,000 156,000 115,000 829,000
Memphis 70,000 457,000 178,000 705,000
USF 221,000 N/A 336,000 557,000
UCF 303,000 12,000 238,000 553,000
Cincinnati 65,000 56,000 308,000 429,000
Houston 109,000 39,000 77,000 225,000
Colorado State 66,000 N/A 51,000 117,000

3. Media markets

As is, the Big 12 has a lot of small media markets. Texas Tech and Kansas aren't in the league because ancient administrators were dying to get into the Lubbock and Topeka television markets. However, the expansion candidates mostly fall in markets that are bigger than the Big 12's current average.

School Media market homes (national rank)
Houston 2,373,700 (10th)
USF 1,859,820 (11th)
Colorado State 1,576,090 (17th - Denver)
UCF 1,4899,710 (19th)
Connecticut 945,250 (30th - Hartford/New Haven)*
BYU 884,900 (34th - Salt Lake City)
Cincinnati 868,900 (36th)
Memphis 636,140 (50th)
Big 12 average 609,967 (54th)

* UConn is also near a Connecticut county considered to be in the New York City metro. The Huskies have a decent alumni presence in NYC, so any plans for an eventual Big 12 Network could include a play at the biggest American market.

On this table, if teams weren't located in a city designated as a standalone market by Nielsen, they were attached to the closest city that was. Houston does the best here, but South Florida (Tampa) and Central Florida (Orlando) have good market-size cases to make, also.

4. Academic strength

Based the most recent endowment reports from the U.S. News & World Report, Cincinnati and BYU are very much in Big 12 territory in terms of how much money it has on hand. Houston's in the neighborhood, and then there's a pretty big drop off. (Note that BYU's financial picture is fuzzier, because it's backed by a wealthy church and doesn't face the same disclosure requirements as most other schools.)

School Endowment
BYU $1.47 billion
Cincinnati $1.2 billion
Big 12 average $1.1 billion (est.)
Houston $684.5 million
USF $387.9 million
Connecticut $367 million
Colorado State $297.1 million
Memphis $200.8 milllion
UCF $152.8 million

Endowment isn't a perfect measure of academic quality, of course. But it's a decent frame of reference for how much money a school has to spend on new capital projects and on enhancing the quality of its education.

Also, school rankings are inherently sort of dumb, but here's how the U.S. News & World Report ranks these places in its most recent edition national accounting:

School USNWR ranking
Connecticut 57
BYU 66
Big 12 average 115.5
Colorado State 127
Cincinnati 140
USF 156
UCF 168
Houston 187
Memphis Not published

Connecticut and BYU are, at least in one evaluator's eyes, a cut above the rest, and Central Florida has taken good care to snipe at UConn and Cincy, which happen to have a larger endowment and better USWNR ranking.

5. Reputation

We've got no idea what this even means. Just get on with it.

Add it all together, and ...

  1. BYU is in the top three of every metric except media market size and endowment. However, the Cougars have a truly national (and somewhat international) fanbase, with alumni near plenty of large Big 12 cities. Recently, BYU outranks the Big 12 average in football quality, basketball quality, football attendance, and perceived academics.
  2. UConn is top-two in four different categories, but is also very far away from the Big 12's geographic center.
  3. Cincinnati and Houston are top-three in three different numbers. Cincy would fulfill West Virginia's wish to have a nearby rival. Some speculate the Big 12 wouldn't want to add the Cougars, who'd be yet another in-state competitor for top Texas recruits.
Based on that, we could easily guess that the Big 12's top three candidates are likely to be BYU, Cincinnati and UConn. There are no guarantees, and the league could expand to four, of course.

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Mike Gundy grew his mullet to spite his son