Big 12 officially adds four schools
None of the Big 12’s newcomers — BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, UCF — liked where they were in the college athletics food chain. All four of them did something about it,
Bob Bowlsby had a tiring Friday. Four Zoom teleconferences, each welcoming a new member into the Big 12. Lots of repetition. Lots of unanswerable questions.
Of course, Bowlsby has had a tiring two months. Trying to keep a conference afloat without OU or Texas makes a commissioner a beast of burden.
So we all can forgive Bowlsby for this audacity: “Our alignment is top-flight and we can hang with anybody that’s out there.”
The Big 12 is not top-flight, and the conference was not hanging with the Southeastern Conference or Big Ten even with the Sooner Schooner and Bevo tearing up Big 12 gridirons.
But it is time to applaud the muchmaligned Big 12 and the recently-reeling Bowlsby. Sure, the quick action to add Brigham Young, Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida to the fold is meatball surgery. But meatball surgery, as Captain Hawkeye Pierce can tell you, has saved a lot of lives.
The soon-to-look-different Big 12 has more questions than answers, but it also has a pulse. And it has four interesting new members that are thrilled to jump aboard.
And not thrilled because they’ve been picked up off the side of the road. Thrilled because their hard work and dedication has been rewarded.
“This is a dream come true for a lot of people” at Cincinnati, said university athletic director John Cunningham.
Here’s what I like about the quartet. None of the four liked where they were in the college athletics food chain. All four of them did something about it. It’s the TCU story.
Cincinnati and Houston were each part of what we’ll call power conferences that dissolved. Cincy in the Big East in 2013. Houston in the Southwest Conference in 1996. Neither landed amid milk and honey.
Both made nine-digit investments in facilities. Cincinnati renovated Nippert Stadium (football) and Fifth Third Arena (basketball). Houston built TDECU Stadium (football) from scratch and renovated Hofheinz Pavilion into the glittering Fertitta Center. And they’ve won at high levels in the major sports.
“I had a moment, you kind of looked around the table, ‘this is happening, this is real,’” said UofH athletic director Chris Pezman, who was at the school when the SWC dissolved. “Despite everybody’s best intentions, I wasn’t sure we would get to this moment.”
Brigham Young long has been the school without a country. A vibrant, major program in the NCAA that is out West, where the Pac-12 rules and wanted no part of BYU, for political reasons.
So the Cougars swam upstream. BYU went independent a decade ago, continued building its brand and waited.
Central Florida didn’t even open its first classroom until 1968, didn’t play its first football game until 1979 and didn’t enter Division I-A until 1996. But the Knights hired good coaches, scheduled as well as it could, won games, built a good stadium and waited.
The patience in the Wasatch Mountains and the Magic Kingdom were rewarded Friday.
“To be where we are today in such a short period of time, is nothing short of remarkable,” said UCF athletic director Terry Mohajir, who knows the Knights’ history but has been on the job only since February.
Bowlsby made the Zoom rounds and mostly answered questions of interest with, “too early to tell.”
Divisions? Probably, but no idea how they will be split, probably differing by sport.
Conference games in football? Too early.
Television allure? Too early. When the newcomers arrive? Well, BYU in 2023, the others no later than 2024, which leaves open the possibility they could be here by 2023.
Will the Big 12 retain its Power 5 status? Yes, Bowlsby said, but he pointed out that Power 5 is an artificial designation, other than with autonomous decision-making.
And Bowlsby reiterated multiple times that OU and Texas have stated their intentions to stay with the Big 12 through the 2024-25 season, which virtually no one believes will happen, but the Big 12 has plenty of incentive to play hardball.
That would be fitting, wouldn’t it. A 14-team Big 12 for a year or two before it finally gets the number right. But I digress.
Back to the newcomers. None of them can approach the status of the Sooners and Longhorns. But all have many more positives than negatives, and their chief crime is they can’t produce the television dollars of OU and UT.
So it’s best to remember we live in the world that is, not the world we wish was.
Sure, this 12-team league stretching from Morgantown to Lubbock, from Provo to Orlando, is corned-beef hash. But hey, sometimes corned-beef hash isn’t half bad.
“It’s been a long time coming and here we are,” said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe.
No matter how you slice it, the Cougars are the cream of this recruiting class. Not a 5-star, but a 4-star. BYU checks all the boxes except how danged far out there it is to Provo.
Five years ago, the Big 12 dangled possible expansion, then pulled it back like a Vaudeville act. Some schools — including Houston — got angry.
BYU kept plugging along. “People thought it might have been a failure when we didn’t get in the Big 12,” Holmoe said, “but at that point, our coaches and student-athletes and administration said, ‘this isn’t going to be a failure, this is going to be a launching point.’ In recent weeks, the stars aligned and all came together.”
Is the new Big 12 top-flight? No. You’d rather have OU, Texas and any two of Texas A&M, Missouri, Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12’s expatriates. Heck, you’d take those four expats over BYU, Cincinnati, UCF and Houston.
But looking back does you no good. Forward march. While remembering that corned-beef hash isn’t half bad.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.