How Will The Big 12 Adding BYU, UCF, Cincinnati And Houston Impact College Baseball?
The Big 12 on Friday announced it will add Brigham Young, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston as members. The moves are the latest round of conference realignment, which was set off this summer when Oklahoma and Texas on July 30 accepted an invitation to leave the Big 12 for the SEC.
The departures of Oklahoma and Texas left the Big 12 in a tough spot. Those two schools were the conference’s biggest brands and with negotiations for a new TV deal looming, the eight remaining Big 12 schools were suddenly dealing with added uncertainty. The group publicly pledged to stick together, but rumors ran wild about other potential realignment moves.
Soon, however, it became clear it would be up to the remaining Big 12 schools to solve the problem themselves. The ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 on Aug. 24 announced the creation of an alliance they hoped would stabilize the college sports landscape ahead of this fall’s NCAA Constitutional Convention and the Pac-12 days later announced it was not exploring expansion. With no golden parachutes into another power conference coming for the eight remaining Big 12 schools, they moved quickly to expand.
Like everything in conference realignment, the Big 12’s decisions were based in large part on football, the biggest revenue driver in college sports. But from a baseball perspective, the conference is adding four strong programs.
Houston has the strongest tradition of the newcomers. The Cougars twice have reached the College World Series (1953 and 1967), have made super regionals four times (most recently in 2014) and have hosted regionals four times (most recently in 2017).
Located in the hot bed of Orlando, UCF has long had significant upside and has reached the NCAA Tournament seven times in the 21st century, though it has never broken through to super regionals. BYU has twice played in the CWS (1968 and 1971) and last made the NCAA Tournament in 2017. Cincinnati has made strides under fifth-year coach Scott Googins and in 2019 advanced to regionals for the first time in 45 years.
None of those four accounts for the loss of Texas, which is one of the sport’s premier programs and the only member of the Big 12 conference to play for or win a national championship in the 21st century. But all four new programs should be able to compete in the conference, especially with an expected increase in revenue the conference change will provide.
The seven holdover Big 12 baseball programs (Iowa State doesn’t play baseball) already made for a solid group. Texas Tech under Tim Tadlock has become a powerhouse and has reached the CWS four times in the last six seasons. TCU is entering a new era after Jim Schlossnagle this summer was hired away by Texas A&M and Kirk Saarloos was hired to replace him, but the elements for the Horned Frogs to remain a power are still in place. Oklahoma State this year opened O’Brate Stadium, a glittering $60 million facility, and has been consistently strong under Josh Holliday. Baylor and West Virginia have both had their moments in recent seasons.
The success of TCU since it joined the Big 12 is what all four programs will seek to emulate. The Horned Frogs were operating at a high level when they joined the conference in 2013, having advanced to super regionals in three of the last four seasons. After one .500 season, TCU ran off four straight CWS appearances from 2014-17. That level of success is unlikely—four straight CWS appearances is rare for even the biggest powerhouses—but it would not be a surprise to see one or more of the four newcomers competing for Big 12 titles within a couple years of joining the conference.
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When that will happen for the newcomers remains uncertain. UCF, Cincinnati and Houston are required to give the American 27 months notice before leaving the conference, though Connecticut was able to negotiate that time down when it left the American for the Big East. BYU, meanwhile, announced it will begin playing in the Big 12 in the 2023-24 school year after leaving the West Coast Conference.
Once the new schools are in place, the Big 12 will have to determine key details like scheduling. It will have 11 baseball-playing programs, which would allow for it to increase the number of conference games each school plays to 30 while still maintaining a true round-robin format with a bye week, like the Pac-12 plays. BYU’s policy of not playing on Sundays will require some conference series to begin on Thursday and may force the conference tournament to conclude on Saturday.
The moves are a significant blow for the American, which will be left with just five baseball-playing members—East Carolina, Memphis, South Florida, Tulane and Wichita State. Those five can form a solid foundation to rebuild around—ECU and USF are coming off super regional appearances and Tulane and Wichita State have long traditions in baseball. But the American in its current iteration has ranked as high as No. 3 in conference RPI. That will be difficult to repeat after the departures of UCF, UConn, Cincinnati and Houston.