The Big 12’s newest four schools aren’t even members yet and commissioner Brett Yormark is already eyeing further expansion candidates.
Yormark said Wednesday at the University of Cincinnati that he wanted to add a team that has “national recognition” from “out west.” Cincinnati is one of four teams set to join the Big 12 in 2023 along with BYU, UCF and Houston.
BYU is the only team among those four that’s west of the Central Time Zone and will be the only team in the Mountain Time Zone when it joins the conference.
“Well, I don’t want to get into the specifics and I appreciate the question,” Yormark said via the Athletic when asked about further Big 12 expansion. “But obviously going out west is where I would like to go, entering that fourth time zone. A program that has national recognition. One that competes at the highest level in basketball and football, stands for the right things, is a good cultural fit. Because our alignment right now and the like-mindedness of all of our member institutions is fantastic. It’s never been better. So I don’t want to compromise that and that’s critically important that there is the right cultural fit when you think about coming in and being part of what we’re building here.”
The Big 12 will be at 12 teams when the four newcomers arrive and Texas and Oklahoma leave for the SEC. That departure is set to happen in 2024 and the conference could end up playing the 2023 football season with 14 teams if the Longhorns and Sooners don’t leave early.
Would 14 ultimately be the right number for the Big 12? Any obvious expansion candidates west of the Mississippi River would be teams from the Pac-12. The Pac-12 is set to lose UCLA and USC to the Big Ten in 2024 after its current television contracts are up. The conference hasn’t announced any new TV contracts and those negotiations could depend on the conference’s stability.
So far, the 10 remaining teams in the Pac-12 have seemed to stand in solidarity to keep the conference together as the Big Ten hasn't made any public overtures to other members of the conference. And commissioner George Kliavkoff has even hinted at expansion himself. When Yormark said the Big 12 was "open for business" regarding conference expansion earlier this summer, Kliavkoff responded that the Pac-12 hadn't "decided whether we're going shopping there or not."
Is there a world where the Big 12 and Pac-12 could both expand without taking teams from the other conference? We’re not sure about that. The previous rounds of conference realignment have made it clear that the national recognition Yormark mentions are a priority. And there aren't many teams with national recognition who aren't currently in Power Five conferences.
That's why it sure looks like the best way for the Big 12 and the Pac-12 to expand would be to poach teams from the other conference. Sure, they could each stand pat and keep a semblance of what we know the Power Five to be still intact, but Yormark sure doesn't sound like a man willing to keep his conference at 12 teams for the foreseeable future after OU and UT depart.