Tuesday, the Big 12 declared itself ready to listen to pitches to join the conference.
While virtually every non-power would be interested in the increase in prestige and money (the Big 12’s payout to members was $30.4 million for the last academic year, with mid-majors bringing in roughly a tenth of that at best), most top candidates are in the American and Mountain West.
The Big 12 didn’t set a specific timetable, but did indicate new members could possibly join "as soon as the 2017-2018 season."
Of course, even if a team earned an invite, it wouldn’t just be able to pick up and move tomorrow. It would need to follow the rules in its current conference’s bylaws, and it’s possible those rules could make a quick transition a bit difficult.
Here’s how you leave the Mountain West.
Per the conference’s bylaws, a school like Boise State or Colorado State can resign effective June 30 of each year, but must announce it "on or before" the previous June 30. For a program to resign in time to join the Big 12 for 2017-2018, it would need to notify the MWC by June 30, 2016 ... which would be impossible, since it’s currently July.
So joining the Big 12 in 2017-2018 would mean penalties. Per MWC bylaws, that school would forfeit its final year of conference revenue and pay the MWC either $5 million dollars or double the amount of the final year’s revenue, whichever is greater.
Boise State, for example, earned $5.1 million from the MWC in 2015, while Fresno State and Utah State earned more than $4 million. When you factor in a year of lost revenue, plus the penalty payout, an MWC team could lose $10-to-15 million dollars, if adamant about joining the Big 12 for the 2017-2018 season.
If a team gave notice now but did not formally join until 2018-2019, the bylaws indicate that team would only forfeit its final year of MWC revenue.
Here’s how you leave the AAC.
An AAC spokesperson confirmed AAC bylines are a little more strict.
Per the AAC, a school is required to give 27 months notice before leaving. (Failure to do so would likely result in an expensive lawsuit, as West Virginia discovered.) Additionally, conference bylaws require a $10 million payment to depart.
That could make it difficult for Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, or UConn to join the Big 12 in time for 2018-2019, let alone 2017-2018, even if an AAC school were able to give notice next month.
That’s not a cheap exit fee.
A $5-to-10 million fee isn’t nothing.
When Temple left the MAC to rejoin the Big East, it paid $6 million to the MAC. Pitt and Syracuse paid $7.5 million to leave for the ACC. West Virginia paid a healthy $20 million to leave the Big East early. Missouri and Texas A&M paid $12.4 million to leave the Big 12.
It’s also conceivable the Big 12 could pitch in on part of an exit fee to a previous conference.
But what about BYU?
BYU is perhaps the only credible Big 12 candidate not in the MWC or AAC. As an independent, it would not have any conference buyout, and many contracts for FBS games scheduled in the future have clauses that allow BYU to opt out should it earn a P5 conference invite.
BYU plays most of its other sports in the West Coast Conference and could potentially still have to pay a buyout or give advance notice. A WCC spokesperson declined to comment, citing a conference policy to not comment on internal matters, which would include membership.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has also described a football-only membership for a new school as possible.
Does that mean it would be impossible for the Big 12 to expand in time for next year?
Not necessarily. After all, many of these disputes could potentially be negotiated. If a program were willing to front additional money, perhaps an understanding could be reached.
But the Group of 5 programs looking at possible Big 12 membership are not flush with cash like other institutions from previous realignment rounds. A $10-to-15 million fee could be a significant ask, especially since their Big 12 payday might not be realized for several years.
That isn’t to say that the Big 12 can’t expand by two or even four teams in time for next football season. But doing so would seemingly require the conference to act quickly, and it wouldn’t come cheap.
Because of this, 2018 seems more likely.