COLLEGE FOOTBALL

What Should Big 12 Prioritize When Creating New Football Divisions?

Jan 18, 2022, 12:07 PM
Big 12 Conference Championship...
ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 4: The Big 12 logo is seen on a pylon before the game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Baylor Bears in the Big 12 Football Championship at AT&T Stadium on December 4, 2021 in Arlington, Texas. Baylor won 21-16.(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – The new Big 12 Conference that will include BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston will be a fascinating league. Unlike many of the Power Conference leagues, the new era of the Big 12 Conference will not have a set juggernaut to take down. That makes creating divisions even more fascinating.

Also, the geography spans three timezones from here in the Wasatch Front to Orlando and Morgantown, West Virginia. So there will be no shortage of intrigue surrounding this new iteration of the Big 12.

But those unique dynamics in this league make for a fascinating proposition, creating the new divisions.

Dennis Dodd from CBS Sports reported that the conference plans on a 14-team league starting in 2023. That will include Texas and Oklahoma until they bolt for the SEC in 2025 after their Grant of Rights is up.

So for this, we’re just focusing on the 12 teams that will shape the future of the Big 12 Conference. What should the university presidents and athletic directors inside the Big 12 Conference focus on when forming these new divisions?

Here are my thoughts.

Texas presence for everyone

Give everyone a presence in the state of Texas. Like the Pac-12, where everyone dips into California, the same should happen for the new Big 12.

I’m sure BYU, UCF, and Cincinnati (exclude Houston because they are already in Texas) are okay with any division they get because being in the Big 12 is a lot better than their current situations (Independence & AAC). But with a league centered in the Lone Star State, why not give everyone a robust annual presence to showcase their brands to the talent-rich state?

My divisions would feature two Texas teams in each division, splitting up the two biggest markets in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston in two separate divisions.

Competitive balance

Competitive balance is where division formation gets tricky. There’s a great argument that 11 of these 12 teams (sorry, Kansas; we see you’re improving, though) could be the class of this conference in any given year. So for this exercise, I kept three founding Big 12 members (since 1996) in each division.

Then split up the two programs that joined this past decade in TCU and West Virginia and made an even split of the four newcomers.

Don’t worry about geography

Through this process with conference expansion, we’ve learned that many of the talking points people liked to regurgitate didn’t have much substance. For example, BYU’s “Sunday play” rule was not much of an issue at all in the process. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said it was “a consideration,” not a “concern.”

Another realignment talking point was “traveling partner for West Virginia.” That’s great in college basketball, which will likely have its own divisions. According to Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, he had an interview with KSL Sports in October. But geography shouldn’t be viewed as a big deal in college football.

So I’d split the former Big East rivals Cincinnati and West Virginia into separate divisions. Then, they could have a semi-regular cross-division battle. Especially if the Big 12 goes with nine conference games.

When creating college football divisions, geography should be the least of anyone’s worries.

My proposed Big 12 Conference divisions for football

Division A

BYU

Cincinnati

Iowa State

Oklahoma State

TCU

Texas Tech

Division B

Baylor

UCF

Houston

Kansas

Kansas State

West Virginia

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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