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|
|Big 12 average||48.8||37.73|
Here's the men's basketball equation, told via the teams' average Ken Pomeroy rankings over the past three seasons:
|Big 12 average||54|
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|
|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:
|Big 12 average||57,941||28,601|
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|
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)|
|Colorado State||1,576,090 (17th - Denver)|
|Connecticut||945,250 (30th - Hartford/New Haven)*|
|BYU||884,900 (34th - Salt Lake City)|
|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.)
|Big 12 average||$1.1 billion (est.)|
|Colorado State||$297.1 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:
|Big 12 average||115.5|
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.
We've got no idea what this even means. Just get on with it.
Add it all together, and ...
- 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.
- UConn is top-two in four different categories, but is also very far away from the Big 12's geographic center.
- 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.
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