Conference realignment rumors are back with a vengeance, with UConn once again in the spotlight.
Weeks after publicly ruling out expansion, the conference’s board of director’s unexpectedly voted unanimously to let commissioner Bob Bowlsby contact and interact with schools interested in joining the smallest of the Power Five conferences.
Waiting for the next response, it's pretty clear: the Big 12 Conference WILL be expanding. No timetable for exactly when.
— John E. Hoover (@johnehoover) July 19, 2016
The announcement comes just after word spread that the ACC is working with ESPN on finalizing a lucrative television deal that includes a conference cable channel. The deal would make the Big 12 the only Power Five conference without a conference-wide cable channel.
The expansion news is beneficial for UConn, who is a strong candidate among many looking to move from Group of Five conferences like the American Athletic Conference to a profit-filled Power Five conference like the Big 12. While the Huskies have had their share of success in the American, a move to a Power Five conference is necessary to remain competitive at a high-level in the long run.
— Matt Schonvisky (@MattSchonvisky) May 4, 2016
UConn boasts a strong academic reputation with elite basketball programs and a rapidly-improving football program right between New York City and Boston, two of the biggest markets on the East Coast. If a conference cable network is what the Big 12 wants, the Huskies serve as an attractive option to dive into two massive and profitable markets.
Oklahoma president David Boren outlined his ideal expansion candidate, highlighting athletic prowess, academic reputation and media markets amongst others. Location was not among them, and if it is not a factor like Boren said, it could greatly help UConn’s chances of joining the Big 12.
David Boren: “If we are to expand, we want to find the strongest partners: fan base, TV following, also academic standing"
— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) July 19, 2016
However, UConn is far from the only candidate that has a legitimate claim at a Power Five bid.
Conference foes Cincinnati and Memphis make more sense geographically and bring stronger football program to the table. Fellow American members USF and UCF could give the conference a valuable presence in the southeast, a noted football talent hotbed. Houston offers an up-and-coming football program right in the heart of Big 12’s current region.
Colorado State would enable the Big 12 to expand to Denver, another major television market. Brigham Young, currently independent in football, would add a storied football program to the conference.
With plenty of quality candidates and either just two or four spots available, the Huskies will have their work cut out for them in order to land a spot in the Big 12.