Cincinnati Is The Most Logical Big 12 Expansion Target

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University of Oklahoma president David Boren reopened discussion of Big 12 expansion on Wednesday, much to the delight of college football writers in need of June topics fans of certain Group of Five programs.

Per Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman:

“I think it’s something we should strive for while we have the time, stability, all of that to look and be choosy,” Boren said. “(We) can be very selective about who we want to add. It would have to add value to the conference. I think we should.”

Boren describes a buyer’s market, and last summer I spotlighted six programs that should be selling. Of those six, there is one that stands as the 1-A most logical choice for the Big 12 to target first.

Apologies up front to BYU and UCF: Cincinnati should be the first Big 12 expansion target, if the conference is indeed looking to add more members.

Television market size is a chief selling point in the current era of realignment. Admittedly, Cincinnati, at No. 34, is behind BYU’s Salt Lake City market (33) and UCF’s Orlando (19).

However, in UC’s case — unlike Boise State, which fails to crack the Top 100 of TV markets — the size of its TV market is not enough of a deterrent to override the many other attractive qualities the university offers Big 12 expansion.

Cincinnati adds another location to go with West Virginia in the Big 12 expansion eastward. An eastern counterpart is crucial, as the rigors of traveling west of the Mississippi have already posed West Virginia’s athletic department hardships in the program’s first three years of Big 12 membership.

Replacing at least one of those treks west in all sports for a trip to neighboring Ohio should alleviate some of West Virginia’s economic burden. There are also ready-made ingredients for a rivalry between the two.

The Bearcats and Mountaineers were Big East Conference counterparts for nearly a decade. In that time, they were two of the league’s pace-setters, combining for five of the Big East’s BCS bowl appearances between 2005 and 2011.

Cincinnati will again compete for inclusion in the top-tier of postseason games, this year vying for the American Athletic Conference championship, and ostensibly, the Group of Five automatic berth into the New Year’s Six.

Cincinnati’s established itself as a reliably competitive program. Last season’s split American Athletic title was the Bearcats’ fifth conference championship in the past seven years.

That in and of itself is impressive, but especially so given Cincinnati has maintained a championship-caliber level of success through three head coaching regimes. Tommy Tuberville joined Brian Kelly (now at Notre Dame) and Butch Jones (now at Tennessee) in adding hardware to the UC trophy case.

With the money and prestige Big 12 membership brings, Cincinnati would likely need not worry as much about sustaining success through turnover, as retaining coaches becomes a more realistic proposition.

Nevertheless, the Bearcats’ continued success through coaching upheavals is a testament to the football program’s infrastructure.

Cincinnati has appeal for the existing Big 12 that could directly benefit those programs, too.

A presence within the Big Ten geographic footprint has to be appealing for the current Big 12 members. Today’s recruiting landscape is such that relying on traditional pipelines may not suffice; planting a flag in enemy territory to let prospects know you’re around is of growing importance.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is already enacting that philosophy with his series of satellite camps, some of which are within the Big 12 footprint. A conference outpost in Ohio — a state that, as the below Deadspin map demonstrates, is one of the top talent-producing outside of the South — gives the Big 12 a counter to programs like Michigan infringing on its region.

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Big 12 expansion to Cincinnati has enough net-positive possibilities that the Bearcats should top the conference’s list when the time for growth comes.