Big 12 football: Louisville, we hardly knew thee
The University of Louisville is the school that got away. The ‘Ville is joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, replacing Maryland in summer 2014, thus ending a 14-month long-distance romance between the Cardinals and the Big 12.
The Big 12 picked West Virginia over Louisville in autumn 2011 and kept UL on a leash, not committing to the Cardinals but never shutting the door. Proponents like OU athletic director Joe Castiglione and president David Boren have spoken glowingly of Louisville, but the Big 12 never was ready to expand, either to 12 or even just 11 teams.
Now Louisville is ACC-bound. So what does it all mean?
It appears the Big 12 is set in stone at 10 schools, for the foreseeable future. Forget, for a moment, who would be the candidates. Let’s just discuss the policy of staying at 10.
With the SEC at 14 schools, and the ACC and Big Ten headed to 14, there is a natural inclination that the Big 12 must follow suit. But why? The others expanded for economic reasons — the Big Ten Network, a possible SEC Network, expansion of the ACC brand into the Northeast besides Boston.
But the Big 12 discovered the opposite. The Big 12 reached financial windfall by decreasing the number of teams. There are multiple ways to appeal to networks. One is big and more markets. The other is brands. The Big 12 learned that it had a brand. That Texas and Oklahoma sell in a lot of places, and to a lesser extent the same is true of the likes of West Virginia. What we sort of knew three years ago we know for sure now — if you’ve got the Sooners and the Longhorns, you’ve got a conference. Same as if you had Alabama and Florida. Or Michigan and Ohio State. The rest is just details.
Rest assured, the SEC additions of Texas A&M and Missouri, and the Big Ten additions of Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers, and the ACC additions of Pitt and Syracuse and most assuredly Notre Dame on a limited basis, were bonanzas financially for those leagues. But paring proved profitable to the Big 12.
As for the belief that we are migrating to four 16-team conferences, I say maybe so. East of the Mississippi. But I don’t see the Pac-12 expanding, without poaching the Big 12. And the Big 12′s handcuffs — the granting of media rights to the league — means no poaching for another decade or so.
So if the ACC and Big Ten and SEC want to move in the direction of 16, fine. But that doesn’t mean the Pac-12 and Big 12 have to or will.
If the Big 12 chose to expand now, clearly it’s best option is West. Adding West Virginia was a clear sign that the Big 12 wanted to look Eastward, but the Louisville move has changed that.
The idea that the Big 12 could go after Florida State or Clemson always seemed like a long shot to me. And now the ACC is more stable than ever. I didn’t understand the idea that Maryland leaving for the Big Ten was some kind of instability in the ACC.
Look at the ACC over the last 15 months. It has added Louisville, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and (partially) Notre Dame, while losing Maryland. That’s a heck of a trade. The ACC is more solid than ever. The only thing that’s rocked the ACC is its basketball tradition. Maryland-UNC. Maryland-Duke. That kind of thing. Maryland-Syracuse was going to be fun.
But Florida State and Clemson never have been part of the ACC basketball culture. They’ve wanted the league to get more serious about football, and five games a year with Notre Dame will help the ACC get more serious.
If the Big 12 wants to stay East, it clearly has to drop down a level. Cincinnati, which made some sense as a partner with Louisville. Connecticut. South Florida. Those just aren’t football name brands worth taking a risk on.
So if the Big 12 ever wants to move back to 12, it’s West. Which means Boise State and Brigham Young. Those are names you can sell. It would be a North Division of wild geography — Iowa State, the Kansas schools, West Virginia, Boise State and BYU — but it would be football you could sell.
Boise State and BYU present all kinds of problems in areas besides football. Minor sports travel. Time zone issues. BYU’s Sunday play. Boise State’s academic reputation, which is campus snobbery but still plays in certain ivory towers. But if it’s football you want, Boise State and BYU provide it. Eyeballs. Tradition (Boise State’s recent, BYU’s more long-term). BYU’s big fan base.
Boise State and BYU clearly are not attractive to the Pac-12. So the Big 12 doesn’t have to make a quick decision. But if the Big 12 decides on expansion, there’s the move.
West Virginia, in some ways, is a loser in all this. The ACC’s invite of Louisville is a sign of the ACC lowering its self-imposed standards. West Virginia and Louisville were seen as academically inferior by the ACC. I think that’s all hogwash, but that’s what they saw. The Mountaineers geographically are a fit for the ACC. But the ACC didn’t want West Virginia. Now it needs a quality football program, and the Mountaineers are unavailable.
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