Now that the Big 12 has announced it'll start considering expansion proposals, there will be a lot of candidates. Big 12 expansion represents perhaps the last chance in the near future for a team in the Group of Five to leap into a lucrative deal and have a reliable Playoff path.
About a half-dozen programs get mentioned as Big 12 candidates, but nobody really jumps out as a runaway favorite (other than BYU and, if Texas is being sincere, Houston). Because of that, an awful lot of schools are making it known that they’d like to be considered.
But this isn’t a new thing. Big 12 realignment has been a topic since late-2009. Plenty of schools officially or reportedly sought membership before the latest announcement.
Here’s a list of every dang school we could find that has expressed interest. Surely others are interested, and we’ll add them as more names emerge.
In August 2016, the Red Wolves were one of 17 teams reported by ESPN as preparing to give video pitches to the Big 12.
Boise State, kind of (and now for real!)
The Broncos’ AD in 2011, when BSU was reportedly a Big 12 candidate:
We haven't [been in contact] yet. I can tell you we're focused on putting ourselves in the best position going forward. We're very excited about being in the Mountain West Conference. We continue to keep our eyes open and our ears open. That's kind of still where we're at.
Despite Boise State’s status as a top non-power, there hadn't been a lot of noise recently.
But now the Broncos are at least in the Big 12 game. The league will reportedly meet with them and 16 others to discuss the idea of BSU joining up.
BYU has been careful not to let promotional materials or correspondence with the Big 12 show up in open records requests, despite being interested since before the Big 12 even formed. The university has tried to stay out of headlines, other than previous football coach Bronco Mendenhall’s calls for Power 5 admittance.
But Tuesday, AD Tom Holmoe took the somewhat surprising step of issuing a statement, indicating his excitement about Big 12 expansion. Friday, Holmoe suggested the Cougars were open to entering as a football-only member, though they'd prefer full membership.
The Bearcats have long been one of the more aggressive schools in reaching out to Big 12 administrators, most recently sending promotional videos and pamphlets to multiple schools over the summer. Oklahoma appears to be in Cincy’s corner, and so is Ohio governor John Kasich.
Colorado State also sent Big 12 administrators promotional material earlier in the summer, highlighting the heavy Big 12 alumni presence in Denver and CSU’s improving athletic facilities. Colorado State’s AD also issued a statement following the Big 12’s announcement.
The Pirates haven’t finished a football season in the AP Top 25 since 1991 and are nowhere near a big TV market, but they boast one of the biggest non-power fan bases. Their AD released a statement saying they believe they "can deliver the state of North Carolina" and "deserve to be in the Big 12."
Florida State, once upon a time
How do you not look into that option? On behalf of the Board of Trustees I can say that unanimously we would be in favor of seeing what the Big 12 might have to offer. We have to do what is in Florida State's best interest.
At the time, many Noles were unhappy about the ACC’s TV money.
Houston has not been shy. One of Houston’s biggest boosters has been beating the drum, and Thursday, the state of Texas and University of Texas leaders announced support.
Those actually working for the university have made statements, as well. Houston AD Hunter Yuracheck said:
The concept of change is always exciting and the evolving landscape of collegiate athletics invokes great passion in the nation’s fourth-largest city. At the University of Houston we are certainly honored to be mentioned as a progressive institution that places a competitive emphasis on both academics and athletics. As a Tier One research institution and Phi Beta Kappa member, Houston has seen a reinvigorated spirit in Athletics. We have returned our proud University to the national spotlight and we aim to compete on the highest levels as we build Champions for Life.
Louisville, in a past life
Before landing in the ACC, U of L was openly battling with West Virginia for a spot in the Big 12.
Administrators sent lengthy promotional materials extolling the school’s growth, recent athletic success, and kinship with Justin Timberlake. FedEx is reportedly willing to spend millions on the school and potentially Big 12 Championship sponsorship. Memphis’ AD also released a statement after the Big 12’s announcement.
A previously confused New Mexico
In 1994, the WAC’s New Mexico was reportedly a top target, even though the Lobos’ own AD seemed to argue against that idea, saying, "That doesn't make any sense. Why would they need to expand? They've got their TV deal."
The Lobos are officially pushing for inclusion in 2016.
The Huskies are among the 17 reported schools meeting with the Big 12 on expansion.
A perhaps confused Pitt
The Panthers appeared out of nowhere in Big 12 rumors before the conference added the nearby WVU. Pitt then ended up in the ACC. It never made sense to anyone.
In 2011, the Big 12’s selection of TCU wasn’t great news for the Owls. But that hasn't stopped Rice from making a presentation to the Big 12 this time around. Rice is in Texas and very good at school.
San Diego State
Conference source: SDSU is one of 17 schools that will be interviewed by Big 12 for expansion.— Mark Zeigler (@sdutzeigler) August 12, 2016
SMU has been bad at football for nearly as long as I’ve been alive, and I’m almost 30. But the Mustangs have a Dallas address, some great fans, and hey, they’d like to be in the Big 12, too, per their AD.
The Owls haven't been too public about this, out of fear of alienating their current conference home, but Philly.com reports that yeah, Temple would be willing to listen to the Big 12, and that they "believe we are as qualified as anybody else."
Tulane isn’t very good at sports, and it isn’t a very big school. But it does sit in New Orleans, a city that everybody likes, and happens to be close to all kinds of recruits. ESPN reported Tulane was a "viable" contender back in 2011.
The school reportedly had a chance to pitch the Big 12 back in 2011, and their AD is close with Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. Tulane’s AD recently said that "if an opportunity for candidacy in the Big 12 Conference presents itself, that is an opportunity we will certainly explore."
UCF also sent promotional materials to Big 12 administrators over the summer, highlighting the explosive growth of the Orlando area, while throwing shade at Cincinnati and UConn. UCF’s AD was not subtle in his recent comments, saying "there ought be a home for us in the Big 12."
UCLA (OK, not really, but hang on)
Surely the Bruins aren’t interested in the Big 12. But their former head football coach said they should take a look at it, which feels dramatic enough to mention here anyway.
UConn did not have any promotional materials show up during multiple open records requests, but previous reports show the school engaging in a more covert strategy, including hiring former Big East commissioner Michael Tranghese to help navigate expansion waters. Other reports show UConn is very likely to pursue Big 12 membership.
UNLV also does not have a good football program. The Rebels don’t have a P5-caliber stadium, and even their celebrated basketball team has struggled. But they’re in Las Vegas, a big city without a P5 program. UNLV’s AD has said she’s had conversations about the Big 12 with the school president. But stadium concerns apparently haven't mitigated their ambitions, as ESPN reports they'll also be on the Big 12 list.
The Bulls have long hoped for a spot, according to reporting in years past and this week.
A former Big 12 school, according to Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder
The entire Big East
About five years ago, the Big 12 and Big East considered merging.
And here’s one that didn’t want in: Air Force, but then changed their minds
In 2011, AFA’s AD said:
We were approached by the Big 12, and I told them we’re not a good fit for that conference. In the Big 12, geography makes sense, the economics make sense, but recruiting makes no sense for us. I can’t recruit against Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State.
That’s why I turned down the Big 12. I can’t do that to my kids, because they’ll get beat up. I’d love the extra $12 million or whatever it would be per year from the TV money. And I know how I’d spend the money. I’d build a new soccer stadium, and I’d build a new baseball facility, all in one year. But I can’t do that.
But on Friday evening, Brett McMurphy reported that Air Force was actually the 18th team applying to join the Big 12.