Why UConn should be the only lock for Big 12 expansion

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

(WTNH)–We’ve been hearing a lot of talk about Big 12 expansion lately, and for fans in Connecticut, the conversation has been almost mind-boggling.

UConn has been mentioned as a possible expansion candidate, but not before schools like Memphis, Cincinnati, South Florida and BYU. No disrespect to those schools, but…really?

Let’s be real: there’s only one major-conference program in the country that isn’t currently in a major conference. That school has won a combined four national championships in three different sports since 2013, and has a $58 million football practice facility.

Really, the only argument against UConn is its football program, but under Bob Diaco, the Huskies have been greatly improved, and appear to be on the path to becoming a perennial bowl team. By any reasonable measure–on-field success, monetary backing, brand recognition, academic reputation, television market–the Huskies are far and away the best fit for a major conference.

So, why aren’t they a shoo-in for the Big 12?

A lot of it, obviously, has to do with geography. Connecticut is a long way from Texas and Oklahoma, and adding the Huskies would create a whole mess of logistical problems that schools like Houston and to a lesser extent, Memphis wouldn’t bring.

But does UConn’s upside outweigh its inherent downside? Let’s take a look at the other candidates and compare them to Connecticut:

Memphis

Please. This program has been as irrelevant as a pay phone outside of Blockbuster.

Memphis football: Below-average since 1974.
Memphis football: A tradition of being below-average since 1974. (AP Photo

Does everyone realize that as recently as 2013, the Tigers were in the midst of a five-year stretch in which they went 12-48? And it’s not like that was even atypical of Memphis football. Since 1978, the Tigers have a cumulative record of 161-254. And this is against the likes of Tulane, UAB, and Southern Miss, not Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State.

Memphis has been to exactly seven bowl games in that time, all since 2003. If it weren’t for Paxton Lynch, people outside of Tennessee still wouldn’t even realize that Memphis plays football.

Sure, the Tigers have a nice little basketball tradition too, but, compared to UConn? I mean, it’s cute.

You can’t even compare television markets, because Memphis, while being a terrific little city, is the 48th-ranked TV market in the country. Hartford-New Haven checks in at No. 30, and that’s not even counting Fairfield County, or the TV sets in New York and Boston that might tune in to watch the Huskies.

So yeah, nice try Memphis. Moving on.

If we can’t use the results of the Civil Conflict to help decide which school is a better fit for the Big 12, than what’s the point of this storied rivalry, anyway? (AP Photo)
If we can’t use the results of the Civil Conflict to help decide which school is a better fit for the Big 12, than what’s the point of this storied rivalry, anyway? (AP Photo)

Central Florida

OK, so UCF is the second-largest university in the nation, and the Knights have had some football success, most notably a Fiesta Bowl thumping of Baylor in 2014.

But this team went 0-12 last season, and got housed by UConn on their own field, 40-13. Arkeel Newsome treated the Knights like they were Wilby High School in that game, scampering for 257 all-purpose yards. UCF has been beaten twice in the Mild Misunderstanding, or the Civil ConFLiCT, or whatever Bob Diaco has decided to name this ‘rivalry’ game now. There’s reason to believe that Connecticut, which has also reached a BCS game, might have a brighter football future than Central Florida.

Next.

Cincinnati

The Bearcats would make sense as a travel partner for West Virginia, and they’d give the Mountaineers a little bit more legitimacy in a league where its closest opponent is a 16-hour car ride away. But Cincinnati is a smaller TV market (35th) than Connecticut, and the football team has made exactly one more BCS appearance in its history than UConn. If the Big 12 wants to go forward with a national TV network, the Huskies would make much more sense.

UConn receiver Noel Thomas, who is from Norwalk, was one of nine players with Connecticut connections named to the All-New England team. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)
The Huskies were the only team to beat Houston last season. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

Houston

OK, so Houston picked the perfect year to go 13-1, emerging as a player on the national stage and knocking off Florida State in the Peach Bowl. But wait…I forget…who was that one loss to? Oh, that’s right, Connecticut. BAM.

While the Cougars definitely make the most sense geographically, Texas would likely be opposed to adding yet another school from the state. Houston could potentially hurt the Longhorns in recruiting, and could steal fans from southeast part of the state. Adding Houston wouldn’t necessarily expand the Big 12’s TV range, either.

Boise State

Really? The Big 12 is going to expand to Idaho? For what reason, exactly? Boise is almost exactly the same distance from Dallas as Connecticut is, and you’d need to hire a private investigator to find it on a list of top television markets (111th). Oh, and the Broncos haven’t built anything close to the national brand that UConn has. Get outta here.

BYU's national reach is a little bit overrated. (AP Photo/John Locher)
BYU’s supposed ‘national reach’ is a bit overrated. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Colorado State

This makes sense because the Big 12 would be re-connecting with the Denver market (17th), which it lost when Colorado bolted for the Pac-12 in 2011. The Rams have a solid football tradition as well, but they’re a clear-cut No. 2 in popularity in the state behind the Buffaloes. Does CSU really have a large enough footprint to justify a move into a major conference ahead of UConn? It’s a decent argument, but we’re not so sure.

BYU

The Cougars have a large following, tremendous football tradition, and exist within the secondary footprint of the league already. But the distance between Provo, Utah, and Morgantown, West Virginia is 28 hours. That’s insane. The league has already made a move east by accepting WVU, so wouldn’t it make more sense to continue on that path? Rolling the dice with UConn and trying to expand to the New York/Boston TV markets certainly makes more sense than trying to tap into Salt Lake City. And despite the fact that I for some inane reason get BYUTV in my home, the school’s national reach is a little bit overrated. You’re not Notre Dame, BYU. Let’s chill out a little bit.

South Florida

If UCF doesn’t make sense for the Big 12, then USF makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The Bulls have fallen flat on their faces in football since ousting Jim Leavitt, and the buzz that once surrounded the program is gone. There’s really nothing that USF can offer the Big 12 that UConn can’t, and the Huskies have you know, 21 more national championships.

Tulane

Hahahahahahahaha. Thanks. I needed a good laugh.

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