The Big 12 remains open to conference expansion.
That’s clear from commissioner Brett Yormark’s recent podcast interview with Pac-12 reporters John Canzano and Jon Wilner. Yormark told them expansion is “certainly something I think about daily.”
USF administrators probably think about it daily, too. The Bulls are still in the American Athletic Conference as three of its top programs (UCF, Cincinnati and Houston) prepare to join the Big 12 this summer. One of the AAC’s top remaining brands, SMU, is a Pac-12 target.
The possibility of another realignment wave leads to an obvious question: Does USF have a shot at following the Knights to the Big 12?
Though Yormark hasn’t addressed specific teams, he did share his expansion criteria with Canzano and Wilner: Performance, cultural fit and time zone/geography.
“I continue to think about expansion for all the right reasons,” Yormark said. “What’s going to be additive to our conference in every way possible?”
Let’s look at whether USF matches what Yormark is seeking:
The Bulls finished 1-11 last season and fell outside the top 100 in advanced metrics like ESPN’s SP+ and FPI. That’s 40-50 spots lower than the Big 12′s worst team (incoming member BYU). USF is 15-43 over the past five seasons and has only two top-25 finishes in its young history.
Though football is a primary driver in realignment, men’s basketball is worth mentioning for the Big 12, the nation’s top conference (six current members are in this week’s AP poll and future member Houston is No. 1). The Bulls entered the week second-to-last in the AAC with only one NCAA Tournament appearance this century.
If performance is a top factor, USF doesn’t have much to sell.
This is hard to quantify because the Big 12′s identity isn’t cohesive, but we’ll try. Most of its members are large, state universities that are tier-one research schools without the lofty academic reputation of the Big Ten or Pac-12. By those standards, USF is a solid match.
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The passion for all sports runs deep among the Big 12 legacy schools. The conference trailed only the Big Ten in average men’s basketball attendance last season (10,602). Iowa State’s average women’s basketball attendance was second in the country, while Texas Tech, Baylor, Kansas State and UCF all cracked the top 40. In baseball, the average crowds at Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech were all in the top 17.
That’s partly because about half the legacy schools sit in markets or states without a major pro sports influence. Then again, the conference is adding Cincinnati, Houston and UCF — all schools in big cities with at least one major-league team.
The conference’s geographic identity is set to change; Cincinnati and UCF don’t match the Big 12′s traditional Great Plains flavor. Both, however, add nice TV markets and fertile recruiting territories. USF would, too, (though those factors probably aren’t as big as they used to be).
What USF cannot add, however, is a Western presence — something Yormark wants.
“Would I like to be a national conference in all the different time zones, from a geography standpoint have our Big 12 flag all over the country? 100%,” Yormark said on the podcast.
The Big 12 will soon have a Mountain Time Zone presence with BYU. Adding a school in the Pacific would create another TV window. If that’s a top priority (and sounds as if it is), the Bulls don’t make sense. Better options would include San Diego State, Fresno State or trying to poach the so-called Four Corners schools from the Pac-12 (Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado).
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