Bob Bowlsby explains why adding BYU, Cincy, Houston, UCF is exciting move for Big 12

By Kellis Robinett

WICHITA, Kan. — It will go down in history as Big 12 Expansion Day.

Bob Bowlsby and the Big 12 Conference announced Friday that they had extended formal membership invitations to BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston to join the league via expansion. And all four schools accepted immediately.

“We are adding four great universities today,” Bowlsby said. “It’s a good day by any measure.”

This was a much easier and faster expansion process than the last time the Big 12 considered adding new teams to its ranks in 2016. Back then, the conference received applications from dozens of schools and eventually decided to stand pat with 10 members.

Things were different this time around. The Big 12 needed to expand with flagship schools Oklahoma and Texas leaving for the SEC. So conference leaders zeroed in on BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF as their targets. Then they added them at warp speed.

It was not a complicated process.

A few things made these four schools natural expansion targets for the Big 12.

“Two hundred thousand students, three additional states, 40 million in population and three of the best recruiting areas in the entire nation,” Bowlsby said. “They are tremendously successful broad-based athletics programs, led my some really outstanding coaches and administrators.”

Bowlsby went on to call Houston the best recruiting area in the entire country. He said BYU will bring a “national” audience and “storied” football history to the Big 12. Cincinnati will boost the conference’s reputation in both basketball and football, while creating some recruiting pipelines to Ohio. UCF and its massive student enrollment of 70,000 will give the Big 12 a presence in Florida and on the East Coast.

Metaphorically speaking, the Big 12 commissioner said his conference got “the best four athletes available.”

The plan is for the new four teams to return the Big 12 back to its mathematically correct membership number, but there is a chance Oklahoma and Texas will remain in the conference through the 2024-25 athletic year. If that happens, the league could balloon up to 14 teams for as many as two years before dropping down to 12 when they depart for the SEC.

Bowlsby said BYU will begin competing in the league in the 2023-24 school year. The other three could join that school year as well. But if they have trouble leaving the American Athletic Conference that quickly they will join no later than July 2024.

“This is a historic day for BYU Athletics — and for the entire university,” BYU president Kevin J Worthen said in a statement. “The BYU mission statement indicates that BYU is a place where ‘a commitment to excellence is expected.’ We strive to meet that requirement in all we do, including our core academic enterprise. Membership in the Big 12 gives us the opportunity to reinforce that commitment for student-athletes, allowing them to compete at the highest level both on and off the field.”

The Cougars will participate in every sport sponsored by the Big 12 except equestrian, rowing and wrestling. The Big 12 sponsors every sport the Cougars compete in, except men’s volleyball.

BYU teams do not compete on Sunday because of religious reasons, and the Big 12 will honor that longstanding policy. Bowlsby said that was an easy consolation to make in exchange for what the Cougars will bring to the conference.

He does not see moving the occasional baseball or women’s basketball game away from Sunday as a significant problem.

“We have said all along that the decisions about where we play, who we play and what conference we compete in are about the student-athletes first and how we can help them achieve excellence,” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said. “Competing on the Big 12 stage provides more opportunities for our student-athletes. That’s what it’s all about.”

BYU, a private school operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been an independent in football for the past 10 years. The Cougars were seen as an attractive expansion candidate for the Big 12 because they have a strong history in both men’s basketball and football. They also have a massive fan base and a stadium that holds 60,000 fans.

Cincinnati, Houston and UCF, all public schools, were viewed as the other best available expansion choices.

“The Big 12 is going to shock people and all athletics, besides academically, in how good it’s going to be in the future,” Houston board chair Tilman Fertitta said.

It was only less than two months ago when news first broke that Oklahoma and Texas were planning to leave the Big 12 for the SEC.

Houston was thought to be one team that could pose some problems for the rest of the conference. Did Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech really want another Texas school in the league?

Turns out that wasn’t an issue.

Texas Tech president Lawrence Schovanec said the Big 12’s Texas schools had no objection to Houston as an expansion candidate. He thinks adding the Cougars is good for Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech and the entire Lone Star State.

Will all the new schools help the Big 12 remain competitive with other power conferences after Oklahoma and Texas exit?

It’s time to find out. A new era has begun in Big 12 country.

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