With reports floating that the Big XII has made the decision to expand and may go as large as 14 to help the league get a network going it is worthwhile to get a handle on where things may be headed and how things may trickle down.
The Texas Myths
First thing, conventional wisdom has been that Texas is opposed and finally came around. Texas may have had some quibbles over exactly how it would work if there is a conference network, but the best interest of the Longhorns is for the Big XII to be viable for the other members.
Media and message board posters love to go on about what a bust the Longhorn Network is but they fail to view it from the standpoint of Texas. Missing goals and targets for the network isn't a Texas problem, it is an ESPN problem. Over the 20 year life of the contract, Texas is guaranteed an annual licensing fee of roughly $11 million per year, increasing 3% per year. If ESPN recovers its $295 million investment, the Horns begin receiving 70% of the profit.
Beyond tractor trailer loads of money, Texas gets huge benefits. It is a branding gold mine, the exposure for other sports gives Texas Olympic sports major advantage and the extensive use of UT students working the network makes Texas a premier broadcast school where students are working doing production at the quality level expected of an ESPN network.
The best interest of the Longhorns is for the Big XII to remain viable and that means a Big XII that includes Oklahoma and hoops blue blood Kansas.Without a viable Big XII the Longhorns are prime property for the Big 10, Pac-12, SEC and ACC but the first three aren't taking Texas without Longhorn network folding into their network and the ACC has already made its special deal for Notre Dame to stabilize the league, Texas is a financial beast but the ACC's needs are different today than when Notre Dame was semi-brought in.
The Candidates. (Prime)
If I had to make a guess I'd say that if the league goes to 12 the top two are BYU and Cincinnati. BYU is the most popular program in Utah, they have followers across the nation and they regularly deliver a very good TV audience. Cincinnati is fifth best among public G5 schools in self-generating revenue. They clearly invest heavily and have a record of success across multiple sports. They also fit nicely as a bridge to West Virginia.
Because I believe a Big XII Network will not close the Longhorn Network (but if owned by ESPN may share some content) the league probably goes forward to 14.So we need two more.
The geography makes UConn problematic but they are the premier program in their state (always a nice plus for a potential P5 member) and they are a dominant men's basketball program and women's hoops are whatever is stronger than dominant.
It seems counter-intuitive but Houston would be my fourth pick. More exposure in a massive recruiting area. Houston spends heavily on athletics and if you are Texas you aren't worried about being out-recruited by Houston and like the idea of another game easy for your fans to attend and diminish the home field advantage.Their biggest strike is that TV may not be that excited even though they draw good audiences. Starting a new network that doesn't fully include UT, they come in handy. Sure Big XII has other Texas schools but Texas Tech and TCU carry little support in Houston and Baylor is small by Texas standards. Houston metro has 3 million more people than the state of Connecticuit, getting full carriage in Houston is vital to a Big XII network.
The Candidates (Secondary)
Going to throw some names you expect and some may surprise.
As you may have noticed, my 14 didn't seem as obvious as 11, 12, 13. After Houston you start running into issues.
East Carolina, Fourth best public G5 in self-generating revenue, the most P5 like G5 public in support but they are in a state with four P5 programs. ESPN owns 100% of the rights of those four. If ESPN heads up a Big XII network, forget it, they won't devote the resources to sell Big XII net in the market and their name hurts the brand outside of fairly serious college football fans
USF/UCF Florida already has strong ACC and SEC presence and two strong regional sports nets (Sunshine and Fox Florida) the #11 and #19 TV markets have to be tempting. Neither commands great interest outside their market and if one is taken over the other, there may be hostility toward the network in the other market. Paired a potential beast and easy travel scenario less than 90 minutes apart. Independent of each other not so valuable.
Memphis, the #50 TV market but a lot of Tiger support doesn't cross state lines into Arkansas, Mississippi, and Missouri (Pemiscott County is Memphis TV market). Winning there is no question they can draw fans. They are 10th in self-generated revenue for public G5's. Having had to vacate two out of three Final Four appearances isn't a strong sales point.
Tulane. No question the academics are acceptable. Traveling to New Orleans isn't going to be something Big XII fans would hate. Part of conference revenue is income from championship events and New Orleans is an aggressive bidder for sports. Adding Tulane would up the ante for everyone hoping to host the football, basketball, and baseball championship events. Being competitive is a different issue and not a good point for Tulane.
Temple. An academic fit with quality hoops, a mega market and good facilities. Football has been historically bad but has been on the upswing.
The Candidates (Time Zone edition)
Having a second (or third or fourth) team in the Mountain or Pacific opens the niche of late game starts to provide flexibility for TV. Currently only the Pac-12 can offer Mountain or Pacific time zone games among the P5.
New Mexico. Upside, they are the top program in their state, third strongest public G5 in generating revenue, not a bad geography fit, help bridge toward BYU, good hoops program, academics not out of line with the overall league. Downside, football has never found any consistent success, small population state.
Colorado State. Like New Mexico not a bad fit in academics, while a long trip they pair well with BYU in travel, typically good not greEvenat in their sports. They are number in their state but they do adjoin Kansas.
UNLV while a young institution they are the most popular program in the state, the city aggressively bids for events. University has shown good commitment for athletics. They are 8th in self-generate revenue and given the city's reputation for being a BIG event place, having a major affiliation could potentially open the door for big revenue growth. Obviously, a destination that fans enjoy visiting. Makes a reasonable travel partner for BYU. If the proposed stadium for the Raiders is built it will likely be on land owned by UNLV replacing the mediocre Sam Boyd Stadium, which isn't even in Las Vegas.Biggest drawback is the Rebels would almost certainly ditch the Big XII if the Pac-12 were to look to them to expand.
San Diego State. Doesn't seem viable unless the Big XII takes two or three other western teams. 11th in self-generated revenue and a great destination that may find itself without NFL football soon.
What about the AAC?
Take a deep breath.
There is no question that AState would want membership in the AAC. Even with Houston, Memphis, Cincinnati and UConn gone (worst case from our viewpoint), having SMU, Tulsa, and Tulane makes it attractive. Now when it comes to money, if AAC gets slammed, their TV deal permits ESPN to cancel the contract if they lose two members. The probable result would not be termination of the contract but rather the rights fee dropping and shifting more games to ESPN3. A damaged AAC is going to be worth less TV money and less attractive broadcast windows.
If the AAC were to just lose one, say Big XII takes BYU and Cincinnati the league probably goes back to 12. Cincinnati is in the east with Navy in the West, the question becomes do they take a western school and allow Navy to go east, or do they just find a new school for the east.
If the AAC loses two or more there may be serious thought given to being a 10 team league. If say Houston, Cincinnati and UConn are gone that raises the possibility that Navy may no longer see the league as good fit.On the flip side a weakened AAC may be more appealing to Army, making Army-Navy a league game eases scheduling for both schools.
If they do look to expand, if you start with self-generated revenue among G5's not in the AAC or MWC the top programs in order are: Army a good brand that draws TV audiences but would be a football only. Old Dominion located in the second largest metro area without a team in one of the big four pro leagues (now that the NHL has awarded Las Vegas a team), Austin is the only larger metro without a Big Four team. They are 2.5 hours from the University of Virginia and almost 5 hours from Virginia Tech. Next is UL Lafayette, located in a market that roughly the size of ECU's market but likely uncomfortably close to Tulane. Most FBS conferences either by tradition or bylaw won't extend an invitation to a team in the same state as a member unless a member in that state offers the motion to invite. If AAC follows that course, nothing would be done without Tulane's consent. Speaking of Tulane, they might be more inclined toward the next school on the list, USM. Located in a market roughly the size of Jonesboro they are one of the best brands not in AAC or MWC. AState is next and while it seems improbable that Memphis would be in favor of the Red Wolves, under common practice as I explained, Memphis would not be able to "blackball" AState but would be free to vote against AState and lobby against the Red Wolves. Marshall follows AState and they are certainly an established brand among college football fans and those who have seen the movie about the program.
AState needs a breakout season in 2016 to bolster the chances at AAC membership. Getting a firm timeline on the north end zone complex as well as timelines for renovating the baseball stadium (or replacing it) and adding softball would help as well. If the realignment process moves slowly enough demonstrating improvement in basketball and basketball attendance would help as well.