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  • Writer's pictureNicole Dragon

Big 12 stays afloat amidst conference chaos

By Nicole Dragon

September 21, 2021

The location of Big 12 teams after the conference officially welcomes Houston, BYU, UCF, and Cincinnatti.
Photo Credit: Associated Press

The Universities of Texas and Oklahoma, two of the Big 12’s powerhouse schools, announced this summer that they would not be renewing their media contracts with the conference. Instead, they will each elect to sign with the SEC when their contracts expire in 2025, with the option to transfer earlier for a $10 million fine.

Texas’ and Oklahoma’s departure would leave just eight schools in the Big 12: Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas Christian, Baylor, West Virginia, and Kansas. In contrast, the SEC will have the most member schools out of all Power Five conferences, granting them opportunities to increase revenue from TV deals and, most prominently, continue to dominate college football.

With its two powerhouses departing, the Big 12 quickly began damage control by searching for replacement schools to keep its conference afloat. On September 10, it sent out offers to the Universities of Houston, Cincinnati, Central Florida (UCF), and Brigham Young (BYU). These colleges will bring high quality competition to the Big 12, while simultaneously earning financial power as newly minted Power Five schools.

Most of the BYU athletic programs are entering the Big 12 from the West Coast Conference, while its football program enters as a former Independent. Currently, the university has a media agreement with ESPN that brings in between $6-10 million annually, but the school is in for a big jump with its new conference. Last year alone, the Big 12 distributed to each of its member schools about $37.7 million from its agreements with FOX and ESPN. Set to enter the Big 12 in 2023, BYU is looking forward to a substantial revenue increase.

Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF, on the other hand, all come from the American Athletic Conference (AAC). Although the AAC is not considered one of the Power Five conferences, it has branded itself as the “Power Six” in reference to its competitive prominence in college football. But like BYU, these schools only made modest earnings with their previous conference: between $4.43 million and $6.2 million annually. This means that by joining the Big 12, these three universities are set to each gain over $30 million in media revenue.

After Texas’ and Oklahoma’s departure from the Big 12, the Power Five conference was left with a choice: suffer the financial consequences, or go out and find replacement universities. Having chosen the latter, the Big 12 now finds itself in a revitalized position with four schools that fit its vision.

BYU, Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF will look to fill the gaping financial and cultural hole at the heart of the Big 12, and given the heightened stakes of belonging to a Power Five conference, it will be interesting to see if they can rise to the challenge.


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