As a disclaimer, the Roundup is completely against the Big 12 and by definition its expansion. If however expansion leads us closer to complete insanity and thereby closer to reason and the return of the Southwest Conference, God's conference (or whichever deity you choose to support) then by all means expand yourself Big 12. Expand the hell out of the thing.
Our friends the Owls have officially thrown their hat into the Big 12 expansion ring joining SMU and Houston as the Lone Star State's entries. (Mary Hardin Baylor is slow playing this thing like a G!) Rice's entry has served as a punch line for those who would point to a lackluster modern football history, poor attendance, and (heaven forbid) the pursuit of academics over athletics as reasons the Owls have no business asking for a spot in the venerable league. Those people who mock the Owls are wrong, of course Rice should seek an invite and so should everyone else.
It's a LOT of Money
The Owls and the rest of their Conference USA brethren just signed a television deal that pays the members $200,000 per year. Or roughly a million dollars less than 2015-2016 revenue levels. That's a hefty pay cut and a huge reduction for schools that pinch pennies to survive. By comparison the Big 12 is expected to pay out upwards of $25 million per team with pro rata shares from expansion over the remainder of league's contract. Even if Rice were, as many suspect, to kick back a significant portion of that revenue to the league the Owls would make a sizable amount more per year than by standing pat in CUSA.
Yes, the chances of the Owls selection to the league are slim, but the Big 12 is essentially guaranteeing someone a one in ten shot at changing collegiate tax brackets. Why not pay your dollar and take your chance. The initial investment in minimal, put together a power point, a flashy brochure, take some photos, grovel, beg, and you don't even need to check spelling. Right South Florida? The worst the Big 12 could do is say no, which leads us to our second point.
Why the Hell Not
In the mid-80's Kansas State was suffering through a 30 game winless streak and managed just 4 winning seasons in the previous 50 years of life in the Big 8. All that losing changed with the hire of Bill Snyder in 1989. The Wildcats put together 18 bowls seasons since including 9 seasons of 10 or more wins and two conference titles. TCU's low attendance and lack of success were two of many reasons the Frogs were left out of initial Big 12 formation, twenty years later the Frogs are not only in the league but a national power.
Memphis, UConn, Houston, SMU, South Florida, BYU, Cincinnati et al believe they belong in the big time of the Big 12. It's a matter of perception. You might disagree. They don't care. Every year the likes of Purdue, Rutgers, Vanderbilt, Boston College, Iowa State and Oregon State compete in Power 5 leagues. They've had various levels of athletic success throughout their history. They all believe they're a Bill Snyder away from an elite run. They're also all cashing big checks.
Rice is proud of its academic environment (second to none in the World), athletic prowess, and facility development. You don't care, but you also think that your university dominates the Owls in those areas. Great, make a bid. If you believe your program's trajectory is destined for greater things that only Power 5 membership can attain, a bid is as close as anyone is getting to a Golden Ticket.
It's like your friend who asked the homecoming queen to prom even though she was staggeringly out of his league. She said no. He wasn't expelled from school or banished from the state. More importantly I'd estimate that a solid 7-8 percent of those guys scored an evening with the homecoming queen. Those guys are running Fortune 500 companies or semi-retired at 35. Book it.
The worst that can happen is you can remain in college football's marginalized lower-middle class. You'll be one of seventeen schools with the minerals to make a bid and get shot down. No one will ever care. Win and your trajectory changes forever.
The Big 12 Has NO Idea What They're Doing
The Big 12 is a hot mess right now, this might be the most pertinent and understated point. David Boren at OU goes rogue and spouts off several times a year, Bob Bowlsby is a puppet, the Longhorn Network exists, and State legislators are involved. The conference made a poor strategic decision by opening up the bidding but don't let that stop you, take advantage of it. If you think BYU and Houston are shoo-ins, think again, the league doesn't appear to want to get better, just richer. Kansas State and Iowa State are terrified that the sleeping giant at Houston will be allowed to get into the no limit room. Schools from across the country regularly pillage Houston every February for top flight talent. They don't want to fund the further #HTowntakeover.
Rice by comparison is a safe, more palatable choice. The Owls recruit a different caliber of athlete - the ones that can read good. Rice doesn't place fear in the hearts of the Big 12 also rans. They're a different animal altogether. Smart kids from a research institution that won't embarrass the league and whose inclusion may pacify the academics in the crowd.
For those of you arguing about market size and television eyes, that's a back burner issue thanks to the pro rata clause. The networks would have to pay for the new members and increase the league's coffers or go to court. The league's contract guarantees a bigger payout, regardless of market size. Does the league want increased exposure through new media markets? Sure, I guess, but that's not evident based on the applications. Is ESPN salivating over that critical Cincy puzzle piece. No, Ohio State already delivers Cincy, the same way the SEC delivers Memphis. (And no, Houston doesn't give you the Houston market, neither does SMU give you Dallas. That's geography, not consumer presence.)
If you keep Texas and OU happy and Baylor and TCU continue to build to devour one another, the conference will have a decent bargaining position for the next round of tv negotiations, in 2025, when we all worship our Google overlords. Bottom line, the league has no idea what it wants other than it wants to make money. A lot of it. Adding teams does that.
So we're left with our plucky heroes out of West U - a research institution with an enrollment of just over 3,800 undergrads taking a shot at the Big 12 and why shouldn't they? They're a world class institution that stacks up against the Stanfords and Northwesterns of the world. They'll add an unmatched academic component to the league. Is the league looking for that? Who knows.
The worse thing that can happen is the Big 12 says no.