Sources: Big 12 looking at four schools for possible expansion

The Big 12′s plan for life after Texas and Oklahoma could be taking shape.

At the moment, it would include BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston as new members of a reworked 12-member conference.
Two industry sources with knowledge of the discussions confirmed that the four schools have emerged as the frontrunners as the eight remaining members of the Big 12 pursue expansion.

The situation has crystalized since last week and two significant developments. First, the Pac-12 announced that it would not expand, closing off the remaining best power conference option for many of the Big 12 schools, including Texas Tech, TCU and Oklahoma State.

Then Big 12 athletic directors met Tuesday and Wednesday in D-FW to discuss options. The conference has already designated a four-person working group to study expansion options.

Afterward, Commissioner Bob Bowlsby issued a statement suggesting the ADs and the conference presidents will work together to strengthen the league, essentially a statement of unity.

“Future exploration by the group will continue to center on options that best position the long-term strength of the conference,” Bowlsby said.

That leaves the Big 12 looking seriously at expansion — and playing offense. There’s simply no way to replace conference cornerstones Texas and Oklahoma, which accepted invitations in July to join the SEC in 2025.

But BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston would fulfill one goal of building the best football conference possible from schools outside the “power five” conferences in larger markets. UCF, Cincinnati and Houston have all played in New Year’s Six Bowls within the last six years, and BYU has a rich football tradition.

The sources also noted that each school has large, interested alumni bases that would be potentially attractive to media partners.

Houston is maybe the most surprising choice. After the Big 12 explored expansion in 2016 and then added no one, outspoken Houston regents chairman Tilman Fertitta blasted the Big 12, calling the process “a sham.”

Of course, in the Big 12, things have been known to take detours, as expansion did in 2016. Plenty of discussion and research remains. Politics and self-interest can intervene at any minute.

Also, the timetable remains fluid with nothing definitive. UCF, Cincinnati and Houston are members of the American Athletic Conference, which requires 27 months of notice and a $10 million exit fee.

One source indicated that approving four schools for membership could happen by the end of the school year in May — if not sooner. The Houston Chronicle reported that a Big 12 vote could come as early as next week.

“I think it can move as fast as everyone wants it to,” the source said.