Since the last round of conference realignment left UConn in the American Athletic Conference, speculation has run rampant about the long-term future of the Husky athletic department.
Would it decline as revenue lagged behind the "Power-5" conferences? Should the basketball team find a way to move to the Big East? When will the ACC/Big Ten/SEC/Big 12 come calling?
It was mostly pure speculation until this past offseason, when we learned the Big 12 would not need to dilute the per-school share from its television contract if it expanded. The sharing of the TV money is a huge hurdle to expansion for any conference, as its leadership would have to believe the gains for the next deal would outweigh the short-term loss. As Pete Thamel of Campus Rush said in a report last week, "if there were obvious and lucrative ways to expand the league and enhance revenue, the Big 12 would have taken those steps long ago."
But now their hand may be forced by the lack of a conference championship game. NCAA rules require a conference to have 12 members to hold a championship game in football. The Big 12 only has 10 following the recent departures of Missouri and Texas A&M. From 1996 to 2010, the conference played a championship game sponsored by Dr. Pepper and broadcast on ABC. The game has taken place in multiple NFL stadiums, including Arrowhead Stadium, AT&T Stadium, Texas Stadium and NRG Stadium. The ACC, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 all have conference championship games.
Whereas the ACC and Big Ten are unlikely to consider expansion anytime soon, if at all, the Big 12 has reasonable motivation to add to its ranks. So prepare yourself for rumors, fiery hot takes and speculation this offseason.
Thamel, who has credibility in matters of the Big 12 and conference realignment, spoke to a number of sources and offered a few thoughts about where UConn stands in the article linked above:
UConn came up in a surprising number of conversations considering its geography, lack of relevant football history and void of local recruiting. UConn would be attractive in a scenario in which the league adds a cable network, as it theoretically could bring a lot of eyeballs in the Northeast. The strong academics and basketball program would also be assets, as would the notion of the Big 12 adding a flagship state school. But if the conversation inevitably turns back to football, UConn wouldn't cut it.
For whatever it's worth, Thamel listed UConn third after the two top candidates: Brigham Young and Cincinnati. UC seems like the safest bet right now, but BYU may not have enough mutual interest from the Big 12 for a variety of reasons. I was also surprised by Temple's absence from Thamel's list and to see that the Florida schools are not in the picture.
It may seem as though UConn is not an ideal fit for the Big 12, and it probably isn't. But it does offer one of the best overall packages (quality of athletics, TV markets, academic reputation) of the schools available, and that may supersede geographic convenience.
But if the Big 12 is only adding two, UConn's chances may not be great.
The possibility also exists that it decides to expand to 14. In this scenario, UConn's chances improve dramatically, as the additional schools joining can mitigate the geography issue and the value of UConn's strong northeast presence may hold more significance.
Here are the key dates and conversations which will dictate the Big 12's offseason plans. Feel free to share your thoughts, predictions and/or conspiracy theories in the comments!
1. NCAA Convention, Jan 14-16
This is when the NCAA will vote on the Big 12's appeal for an exception to have a conference championship game with only 10 teams. It appears the appeal will be denied, in which case the Big 12 will almost definitely be looking to add at least two new members. Having a conference championship game represents earnings of roughly $2 million per year per school in addition to offering a marquee matchup to help the conference bid for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
2. Does the Big 12 start a TV Network?
If the conference is working towards building a television network, there may be signs from the media business newswire which precede any other news about actual expansion. A TV network increases the likelihood of the Big 12 expanding to 14, and with it UConn's chances of receiving an invite.
3. UConn's Involvement
UConn Report, a really cool website that you should all subscribe to, reported weeks ago that preliminary conversations have taken place between UConn and the Big 12. This information arrived before the news that the Big 12's championship game appeal was likely to be denied.
If a P5 spot is up for grabs, regardless of how snug the fit is, UConn should be going after it. Simple as that. It looks like UConn's leadership appears to be somewhat ahead of the curve this time around, so that's good.
Plus, check out Susan putting the full-court press on Kansas State president Kirk Schulz while KSU was in town for a women's basketball game. Schulz was the head of the Big 12's expansion committee last time around.
4. If there is any expansion, will it be to 12 or 14?
If a TV network is in the works 14 makes the most sense. Having 14 teams also helps the Big 12 in its next round of TV rights negotiations with ESPN, but that isn't for a while.
Still, it may make sense to go to 14 no matter what to grow the conference's presence in more markets, add the best schools available, and better help West Virginia with its geographic isolation.