Big 12 Conference expansion rumors continue to swirl as the league reportedly has summoned the 11 remaining candidates being considered for membership to Dallas this week for second-round interviews, according to multiple media reports.
While most Big 12 Conference expansion rumors have focused on the University of Houston and BYU after impressive wins over Power Five schools to kick off the 2016 college football season, a pair of dark horse institutions from Florida continue to gallop along under the radar. Despite the lack of buzz surrounding the candidacy for UCF (University of Central Florida) and USF (University of South Florida), the schools’ large TV markets and fertile recruiting locations are significant reasons the Big 12 continues to consider these schools as expansion candidates, despite being more than 900 miles away from the closest Big 12 institution.
Count Orlanda Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi among the believers that USF and UCF should be added as Big 12 members through the expansion process currently underway. Focusing his article on UCF, Bianchi details how one of the largest universities in the nation should rely on its resources — Disney, Orlando, and millions of residents — to launch big-time college football in the Florida region.
“Orlando is the biggest TV market in America without an NFL team… If you were to bring big-time college football to Central Florida, the Big 12 could own a metropolitan area of more than 2 million people and turn an internationally renowned city into the world’s largest college football town.”
Indeed, adding USF and UCF through expansion would give the Big 12 two of the top 20 largest television markets in the country. Recruiting in the central Florida region is also among the nation’s hottest spots, an area that is wide-open because no dominant Division I program occupies the region. USF and UCF would look to change that with their admission to the Big 12.
— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) August 29, 2016
The knock on USF and UCF being added through expansion, however, has been the support each school receives. Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones expertly explained the problem in a recent column, identifying support at a recent USF college opener as evidence the school needs to step up its efforts to garner serious Big 12 expansion consideration.
“USF will tell you to look back to when more than 67,000 were showing up to watch it play the likes of West Virginia. But this has always been USF’s case. It wants you to look at 10 years ago and 10 years from now. It wants you to ignore the present. Last season, USF was 8-5 and went to a bowl game. It averaged 26,578 at home. UCF went 0-12 and averaged 30,065. Until fans give up their ’emergency teams’ — you know, the teams they root for when USF isn’t playing well — USF will have a tough time consistently drawing big crowds.”
While Big 12 fans have dreamed about other Power Five conference institutions joining through expansion, league commissioner Bob Bowlsby has consistently pushed for institutions on the rise like USF and UCF. When the Big 12 Conference first announced the league would explore expansion options, the top official from the 10-school group pointed to potential as a top quality for expansion candidates, according to ABC News.
“We are looking for members that will grow over time as we grow. That bring stability. That have a high top end.”
USF and UCF have already survived the initial interview process as the Big 12 whittled down their candidate list from nearly 20 institutions to the 11 remaining schools, according to The Inquisitr. Joining USF and UCF as candidates for Big 12 expansion are Air Force, BYU, Cincinnati, UConn, Colorado State, Houston, Rice, SMU, and Tulane.
— Dallas Morning News (@dallasnews) September 3, 2016
Two institutions that apparently did not make the initial cut were Memphis and Temple. Unlike other schools that were eliminated from the first-round expansion interviews and made public announcements to confirm their status, both Memphis and Temple have remained silent, causing speculation that both schools persist as Big 12 expansion candidates.
Do you think USF and UCF are serious Big 12 Conference expansion candidates? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
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