Football

The ISD Editorial Board examines how adding four teams to the Big 12 will improve the conference.

Editor's Note: Editorials are representative of the views of all Editorial Board members. One or two members will compile these views and write an editorial.

The Big 12 is back to 12 teams and back to national relevance. News that Cincinnati, BYU, Houston and UCF are joining the Big 12 should excite Cyclone fans. Their addition brings future stability to a conference that was left floundering for a couple of weeks after Oklahoma and Texas left. By adding these four teams, the Big 12 conference will immediately gain respect from the other conferences and college athletics as a whole.

Football is really the only sport that this addition will affect in a meaningful way. Because football is overwhelmingly the only sport that actually makes money for a college athletics department, conference realignment is driven by college football.

This realignment is important because, for some time, Big 12 teams have been seen as inferior across college athletics. In football, Oklahoma has been the only team to make an appearance in the playoff and has only appeared in four of the seven years that the playoff has existed. All four of those appearances ended as losses.

Much of this perceived slighting can be attributed to the fact that the Big 12 only had ten schools since 2012. The rest of college athletics saw playing a smaller group of teams as less competitive. That’s an incredibly difficult judgment to make, but where each of the other power five conferences had more teams, they saw the Big 12 as an easier conference to play in.

Where the smaller number of teams in the Big 12 could have had a more tangible impact on football programs is in regards to the number of wins against winning teams: that is, teams with more wins than losses. In the other power five conferences, not everyone plays each other each year. Phrased another way: other conferences don’t beat themselves up as much as the Big 12.

By adding four schools and bringing the total number of schools in the conference back to 12, schools can expect to “catch a break” in that they may not have to play all of the top teams in the conference each year. Teams at the top of the conference may see this as weak, preferring to build as good of a resume throughout the season as possible. Where it really helps is with middle-of-the-pack teams, those looking to go .500 or better.

By avoiding one or two of the top teams in the conference each year, they average a better season. Then, when the top teams in the conference do beat these middle-of-the-pack schools, they get a win over a 7-5 team rather than a 5-7 team. That kind of win can be the difference between a playoff spot or not.

So why not just add a bunch of schools? How hard can it be to attract schools to a power five conference?

It’s probably not actually that hard to get schools to join a power five conference. If you think the Big 12 has been treated unfairly, consider how some groups of five schools have been ignored despite amazing records with wins over high-quality opponents. The important thing to consider when finding new teams is the perceived quality of those schools.

Here’s the great news. The Big 12 added four excellent college football programs in Houston, BYU, UCF and Cincinnati. Over the past decade, each of these football programs has arguably been the best group of five schools for one or more years. Last year BYU was 11-1, and Cincinnati was 9-1. UCF went undefeated in 2017, and Houston boasts two 13 win seasons in the last 10 years.

These are good football programs that will instantly gain credibility simply because they are now in a power five conference. By no means do they water down the competition in the Big 12. In fact, they improve it immensely. Each of these teams will compete immediately for the Big 12 Conference Championship when they join.

College football as a whole benefits from this realignment. Because the sport has turned into a competition between power five programs, increasing the number and quality of power five programs elevates college football.

The importance of many somewhat equally talented conferences can’t be overstated. The survival of the Big 12 conference was already important, but its growth and improvement will have a profoundly good impact on the sport of college football for years to come.

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