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Big 12 Turns to the Aggressor in Realignment

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As the Pac-12 has backed off poaching Big 12 teams, the Big 12 has started to discuss expansion. This means they could be coming for the AAC’s top teams.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Around a month ago Texas and Oklahoma announced they would be leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. This sparked what is expected to be the next wave of conference realignment.

The Big 12, of course, had been blindsided. Bob Bowlsby was furious and embarrassed, going so far as to accuse the AAC and ESPN of colluding to steal away three to five more teams from the Big 12. Back then, it seemed clear that the Big 12 was going to be devalued into the ranks of the Group of Five and the AAC was set to replace them.

Then, the Pac-12, ACC, and Big Ten announced their alliance that ultimately means nothing, though they did announce that they felt stronger with the Big 12 around. This was quickly followed by the Pac-12 announcing that they weren’t interested in expanding with the Big 12’s remains. In response to that, the Big 12 decided to hold a meeting on expansion, where everything is on the table.

According to The Athletic, the first team getting serious consideration is BYU, with their TV numbers being a big draw. After all, TV numbers are going to be the primary way to prove your value on the market and in a new media deal, which is what is most important to the Big 12 in expansion.

It’s also worth pointing out that if and when the Big 12 chooses to expand, they’re likely going to add multiple teams, including schools from the AAC. The discussion has largely been linked around three or four teams in the AAC, starting with UCF and Cincinnati.

UCF, for instance, are comparable to Big 12 schools in their TV numbers, with Power Five spending habits and plans for the future. Cincinnati, meanwhile, has access to a great market and is one of the best programs at its level in the country over the past two decades. They both make perfect sense to add.

Houston would also make sense from several points of view. For one, they have historic success and ties to portions of the Big 12 through their old Southwest Conference days. They also bring good facilities and money for a power conference team. There is one major issue with that, though. Politics could get in the way. The Big 12 is reportedly reluctant to look at Houston, due to how Houston’s board chairman Tilman Fertitta acted in 2016.

Other AAC schools that people normally like to speculate about include SMU, Memphis, and USF. None of them have come up much in a proposed expansion of the Big 12. This could be due to any number of factors, but a limited number of spots, facilities, and fan interest all play their part. The Big 12 is also going to be looking at Mountain West schools like Boise State, limiting available spots for the AAC anymore.

NCAA Football: Temple at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimately, though, what does this mean for the AAC?

For one, the AAC doesn’t have as much control or sway as we previously may have thought going into this next round of realignment. It shows that most people still see the Big 12 as a better option that can earn them more money, influence, and respect than the AAC can. It also means that the AAC might be having its top programs poached. This, in turn, would severely weaken the value of the AAC. ESPN would want to renegotiate their media deal and the conference would undoubtedly be getting less money.

This could also force the AAC itself to look into realignment. This would create a domino effect, as smaller conferences get poached so the AAC can maintain as much as possible.

All of this comes down to the idea that adding to the remnants of the Big 12 is worth more financially than breaking up the Big 12 and sending those pieces to the AAC. The Pac-12 and other P5 conferences, simultaneously, have said that adding any of these Big 12 programs will only worsen the size of their current shares. So, they’re not interested in expansion.

Plenty more can be going on behind the scenes and plenty more can change. For now, though, it’s clear that the AAC is not a stable conference. Too many teams are looking for the next best opportunity, and if the AAC wants to stay together they’re going to have to become the best option soon.