The rumors brewed for a week, but the next domino in conference realignment officially fell Friday morning.
The Big 12 voted unanimously to extend invites to three AAC universities — Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF — as well as BYU from the independent ranks. All four programs are expected to officially join the league for the 2023 football season, per The Action Network’s Brett McMurphy.
BYU, Cincinnati, Houston & UCF’s 1st season in Big 12 will be 2023, sources told @ActionNetworkHQ. That allows new members to play in conference 2 years w/Oklahoma & Texas still there - unless OU & UT get out early to SEC— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) September 10, 2021
The Big 12’s decision to expand transpires roughly one month after the conference lost its two financially richest programs in Oklahoma and Texas, which were officially approved for SEC membership in late July. Unless the Sooners and Longhorns pay early exit fees, the Red River rivals are expected to join the SEC for the 2025 football season. Thus, there may be two seasons of a 14-team Big 12, comprised of the four newcomers and the two lame duck members.
The new expansion move increases the Big 12’s geographic footprint to three new states of Florida, Ohio, and Utah, and now the geography of the league covers more ground than ever. BYU becomes the conference’s westernmost program, UCF occupies the conference’s southernmost point, and Cincinnati provides new real estate in the Great Lakes areas. It has not been announced if the conference plans to implement divisions and how such bifurcations would materialize. Currently, the Big 12 operates without divisions and sends its top two teams to Arlington, TX for the conference title game.
This move will reduce to the AAC to eight football members. The league dropped Connecticut following the 2019 season and now must adjust to life without three of its premier programs. Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF are the only three AAC members to finish a football season in the AP Top 10 since the conference’s inception in 2013. All three schools combined to participate in five BCS/New Year’s Six bowls in those last eight seasons. Now that the Big 12 reacted to the SEC poaching two of its members, the cycle likely continues as the ball enters the AAC’s court.
Several old rivalries may be reformed in the new-look Big 12. Cincinnati reunites with former Big East rival West Virginia — two programs that won a share of the Big East title every year from 2007 until the Mountaineers’ final season in 2011. Also, Houston joins a conference consisting of a triumvirate of Texas-based programs. The Cougars shared the Southwest Conference with Baylor, TCU, and Texas Tech from 1972 until the conference’s dissolve in 1996 and often battle those programs for recruits.
For now, the Bearcats, Cougars, and Knights are focused on closing out their AAC membership on a high note. Cincinnati is currently owns the highest September ranking in the conference’s history at No. 6 while UCF is receiving AP votes after a dramatic Week 1 comeback over Boise State. While no New Year’s Six bid is guaranteed to this season’s AAC champion, the three programs will enjoy an automatic bid in the Big 12 should the current playoff structure prolong through 2023.
Each AAC program reacted on social media to its new affiliation: