Bigger Big 12: BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston on the way

by 24USATVSept. 11, 2021, 3 a.m. 22
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The Big 12 didn’t even wait for Oklahoma and Texas to leave before expanding and the league may not necessarily be done growing after adding BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston.

“This was a very clear and relatively easy decision for the eight continuing members of the Big 12,” Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec said Friday after that group unanimously approved applications from the four schools that sought membership after the league learned the Sooners and Longhorns will leave for the Southeastern Conference no later than July 2025.

Within hours of the Big 12 vote, all four formally accepted the invitations.

There had been no indication that Oklahoma and Texas, the only Big 12 teams to win football national championships, were looking to move until the reports emerged a week after Big 12 football media days in mid-July. By August, both had accepted formal invitations to join the SEC.

The moves prompted speculation that the Big 12 would soon be in a death spiral without its two most storied programs, at least in the revenue-producing sport of football. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby had been largely quiet in recent weeks as the expansion was put in motion.

“Speaking purely on a personal level, I enjoy working with people that I trust, that I like and that I know share the values that I have for intercollegiate athletics,” Bowlsby said Friday.

BYU said all its sports will begin Big 12 schedules in the 2023-24 athletic season. BYU is an independent in football, but competes in the West Coast Conference for basketball and so-called Olympic sports like track and swimming.

Bowlsby said current American Athletic Conference teams UCF, Cincinnati and Houston will join no later than July 1, 2024, but he “certainly wouldn’t foreclose” on the possibility of them coming in a year earlier with BYU.

The AAC requires members to give 27 months’ notice if they plan to leave the league, though there could be negotiations between the schools and that league to reduce that time.

AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco said the league expected Houston, Cincinnati and UCF to “abide by the conference bylaws to ensure an amicable and orderly transition” as the league considers its options.

“Today’s news confirms what we have said all along regarding our status as a power conference,” Aresco said. “The irony that three of our schools are being asked to take the place of the two marquee schools which are leaving the Big 12 is not lost on us. Our conference was targeted for exceeding expectations in a system that wasn’t designed to accommodate our success.”

The four schools were among 11 interviewed by the Big 12 in 2016 when it considered expansion before staying at 10 teams.

Bowlsby described that process five years ago as “a voyage of exploration,” but said the decision by Texas and Oklahoma to leave prompted renewed consideration of available options.

BYU President Kevin Worthen said the Big 12’s expansion study five years ago made the process much faster and easier this time. Cougars athletic director Tom Holmoe said that failed attempt to get into the Big 12 turned out to be a “launching point.”

The Longhorns and Sooners have said they will honor their current contracts with the Big 12 and do not plan to join the SEC until 2025, when the conference’s current television rights contracts with ESPN and Fox run out. That means the Big 12 could have up to 14 members for a season or two.

Bowlsby said the Big 12 will take the departing schools at their word “and if it turns out that that isn’t the case, we feel like we have the necessary legal prerogatives to manage it as we see fit at the time that it occurs.”

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