The skids to slide into the Big 12 Conference are being greased just fine.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the newcomers to that Power Five league have already proven their depth, national brand, skill and acumen ahead of actual membership in June 2023.
Bowlsby and his senior team from Big 12 headquarters were in Provo this past week for meetings with BYU’s administration, athletic department, coaches and players, part of a meet-and-greet preamble. Bowlsby appeared on BYUtv’s “Sports Nation” on Friday, explaining conference issues and aspirations.
Bowlsby pointed to current basketball rankings of new member Houston at No. 14 and the top-10 finish of Cincinnati in football as key indicators that correct picks were made by Big 12 expansion. Along with that is BYU’s No. 1 ranking in the final fall standings in the Learfield Director Cup standings for Division I.
“BYU has been exceptional in athletics for a very long time,” he said during his BYUtv appearance. “They bring tremendous credibility to our league.”
From a statistical standpoint, said Bowlsby, the Big 12 actually had a net improvement in basketball with the new additions and deletions of Texas and Oklahoma with the current competition.
Bowlsby said the league, which spans three time zones, is adding vibrant new programs with tremendous alumni numbers, and BYU’s worldwide appeal puts the league closer to its goal of winning national championships and competing at the highest level in every sport.
Of particular interest was Bowlsby’s take on how BYU, Cincinnati and Central Florida have already noticed upticks in football recruiting, a sport that provides 80% of the league’s revenue.
BYU and the other new additions, predicted the commissioner, will all benefit from recruiting football players in Texas, in particular Harris County in Houston, which he called the No. 1 football recruiting ground in the country.
“I think BYU’s recruiting will be assisted by having Houston in the state of Texas. I mean, they reside in Harris County, Texas, which is arguably the best recruiting county in the entire United States for football players,” he said “I think there’s going to be a tremendous impact. As I’ve talked with coaches while we’ve been on campus, to a person they’ve said, it’s having a tangible effect on recruiting.
“And, you know, I think that’s a good early indication. It isn’t the final verdict, but that’s a really good early indication. I think rivalries will help to drive that. A kid from Texas wants to know that he’s going to get to play in front of his family once in a while. Well, he can go to BYU and know he can do that.”
Bowlsby said he was at the BYU-Baylor game and saw firsthand the budding of what may become a tremendous rivalry in the future.
“I think there’ll be a number of rivalries that develop,” said Bowlsby. “You know, interestingly enough, we added BYU in the West and added Cincinnati and Central Florida on the East and Houston was a pretty easy addition.
“We got a worldwide brand with BYU, we got three of the best recruiting areas in the country with the other three and you know, they’re all a little differently situated but eventually they’ll trend toward the mean and in terms of what has become common practice in our league.
“I just think it’s going to be interesting to see how it shapes up because after having been at the BYU-Baylor game, I would tell you, I think there is nuggets of a rivalry there. There was a great crowd and there was a lot of blue and white in the stands. We probably won’t spend a lot of time trying to force rivalries. We’ll let those evolve a little bit.”
Bowlsby said in his role on the College Football Playoff committee looking into expanding it beyond four teams, he saw a unanimous consensus to wait until 2025 to make a move to 12 teams. He believes that was kicking the can down the road, but it was the consensus of the committee.
The commissioner believes Oklahoma and Texas will be true to their word and stay in the league through 2025. The Big 12 has two legal documents, the conference bylaws and grants of media rights contracts (a federal antitrust document) to enforce compliance. Any departure early could cost each of them as much as $75 million.
As for handing and dividing up competition in the future expanded 2023 league, Bowlsby said he expects two divisions in football, no divisions in basketball, and all other sports will be determined by subcommittees comprised of athletic directors and coaches.
New Big 12 members, said Bowlsby, will feel like members by this time next year and he expects all will be prepared to dive in all the way the following June.