A couple months ago, I was having a Big 12 expansion conversation with a friend of mine who lives in the heart of AAC country. I said that I had heard Memphis and Cincinnati were among the candidates mentioned for expansion.
"Why not just take all the AAC," suggested my friend.
"Because that would be insane."
"Seriously. The league is strong, and P5 conferences will only bet bigger."
I dismissed that concept right away. It was too bold a move. Too brazen! And besides, just because the AAC was enjoying a good year in 2015 doesn't guarantee good seasons to follow (ask the Mountain West and CUSA). But then I started giving the idea more consideration. It made too much sense! The numbers added up. There was no downside. Most of all, there was money to be made.
Forming an alliance with the Group of Five may be the only way the Big 12 can survive.
Full Transparency: I've entertained scenarios that would see my alma mater, Arkansas State, in the Big 12. And why not? TCU was in the WAC less than twenty years ago. The WAC! The Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 from the Mountain West in 2011. If there is a model for Arkansas State or any Group of Five program to follow, it's TCU.
TCU was a good move for the Big 12. For the last few seasons, the Horned Frogs have been among the conference's elite programs, taking over where Texas A&M, Nebraska, and (to the chagrin of the Longhorns) Texas fell away. TCU smashed the notion that any program elevated to a high-resource conference requires years to become competitive. All it takes is a commitment on both sides (and possibly a blood pact with Beelzebub).
The Big 12 has already set the precedent for its own cure. It proved that the G5 and the P5 could coexist, and to mutual benefit. The ground is not completely unbroken. One requires only the wherewithal to pour the foundation.
This is the point where you probably think I'm about to recommend something crazy: Invite the entire American Athletic Conference to the Big 12.
That is a nutty idea, and I'm not alone with having serious doubts. I've heard several pundits claim the are no suitable AAC candidates to meet the high criteria set by the Big 12. That's mostly P5 snobbery talking. Take the Houston Cougars, for example. The University of Houston has 42,700 enrolled, and Houston's TDECU Stadium claims a capacity of 40,000, which is only about 10,000 fewer than Kansas State's Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Furthermore, the Liberty Bowl, home to the Memphis Tigers, accommodates 60,000. UCF's Bright House Network Stadium has a capacity of 45,000. Facilities aren't the problem. Fan bases aren't the problem. Quality programs aren't the problem.
But there are some academic concerns. According to a recent article from NewsOK, the Big 12 is the weakest conference academically of the Power Five conferences. Losing Missouri and Texas A&M was a big blow to the Big 12, academically speaking. This is why the Big 12 was so keen on adding the University of Pittsburg to the mix. In the AAC, only Cincinnati, with a Carnegie I research designation, is remotely qualified to raise the Big 12's academic profile.
It's easier to get richer than it is to get smarter. There's one way around this troubling conundrum. Perhaps you've finally drawn the conclusion that I've already arrived to.
The Big 12 can't absorb the American. But the American can absorb the entire Big 12.
Calm down. Yes, I know this is a radical solution, and besides who knows if the American would risk weakening its brand? After all, the AAC is doing very well on its own, thank you very much, and the Big 12 is carrying a lot of dead weight. The AAC isn't going to accept the Big 12 without the Big 12 first agreeing to some very fair conditions.
Give Texas the Boot.
That's right. Boot Texas right out. Adios! There are no prima donnas in the AAC! The Big 12 may have allowed the Longhorns to bully them, but the AAC has too much business moxie to be pushed around. The SEC Network just raked in more than half a billion dollars! And the Big 12 is allowing one program to deny everyone similar dividends. Now you gots to go, Texas! Best of luck as an independent.
Accept That You Are Now "The Big American."
Ten. Eight. Twelve. The AAC understands that you can't anchor your brand to a numeral. In fact, go ahead and acquiesce completely to the AAC's new generation-style of leadership. Let them take charge. You're the dolts that allowed the SEC to poach your smartest institutions, for crying out loud. Let the grownups make the big decisions, now. Sit back and enjoy the big fat checks.
Marry ESPN For The Money
ESPN wants a Big American Network just as badly as you do. Sign on the line that is dotted and then build a big-ass vault for all your gold. Obnoxious wealth should take the sting of watching Houston and Temple winning Big American championships every year.
Add A 22nd Team
"The Big American" has a hairy-chested ring to it Its creation is preordained. Call it the new Manifest Destiny. But stopping short of 22 teams isn't a) Big or b) American. Do the patriotic thing and add the Arkansas State Red Wolves to the conference. We can re-ignite the A-State/Memphis rivalry this great nation deserves. And you owe me something for saving your ass anyway.