With the thought of decamping to the Pac-12 now off the table, the remaining eight schools in the Big 12 after Oklahoma and Texas leave for the SEC now have a numbers problem. And expansion appears to be their best way forward.
The Big 12 has already formed an expansion subgroup that includes Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt, Baylor AD Mack Rhoades, Iowa State president Wendy Wintersteen and Kansas chancellor Douglas Girod. On Thursday, Hocutt told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal the group will meet Friday morning to explore the topic with Big 12 presidents and chancellors. He said their ADs are set to meet in-person next week, too.
The television numbers suggest that the subgroup should look west. Given the grave concern about lost revenue with the departures of Oklahoma and Texas that could potentially cost schools $10 million to $15 million a year in media rights revenue, it might be best to stay small and nimble. And it probably would be best to only add schools that would enter near the top half of the league in budget and TV drawing power. BYU could be a potential solution.
Between 2015 and ‘19, the median audience Big 12 teams (minus games involving Texas and Oklahoma) drew for 36 games broadcast on ABC, Fox or ESPN was 1.786 million viewers. BYU’s numbers were comparable; the Cougars’ median audience in 16 games broadcast on those channels was 1.64 million. For 104 games broadcast on ESPN2, ESPNU, Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports 2, the remaining Big 12 schools drew a median audience of 482,000. BYU* drew a median audience of 682,000 from 20 broadcasts on those networks.
The drawing power of the Mormon Church is a huge asset, as BYU whether they’re good or bad on the field will always have a devoted following due to the religious ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It could also be a win for the Coogs, who will probably need to find a conference affiliation if they want to compete in a potentially-expanded 12-team College Football Playoff. The recommendations of the committee are for having six conference champions join six at-large teams, and losing access to half the bids as an independent institution means you might never play for a title.
BYU chooses not play games in any sport on Sunday which is a scheduling issue for Olympic sports, but the size of their audience might make it worth it for the league to make smaller concessions such as these. But the bigger issue might be from LGBTQIA+ groups that have been vocal about discrimination at the school. BYU has made adjustments to their honor code in recent years, but still does not treat same-sex relationships the same as heterosexual ones.
There’s plenty for an expansion committee to sort through, and it’s still possible the American Conference with their ESPN contract could come raiding for some Big 12 members as well. We’ll see how this moves in the upcoming days.