It appears UCF's hopes for getting into a Power Five league just got a violent shove back into realism, courtesy of the Big XII.
At the Big XII Board of Directors' meeting outside of Dallas today, Commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced that his league will tepidly begin considering expansion. Again.
After hearing from a pair of consultants, the league reportedly directed Bowlsby to begin contacting schools that may have an interest in joining.
Oklahoma president David Boren, who's been quite vocal in the past about expansion, said, "It’s a forward step. It’s a positive step, but it’s not yet a decision. … I think there is momentum on the board that it’s a very definite possibility."
Let's be clear here: The commissioner and one president said that the other presidents are okay with said commissioner contacting schools to gauge their interest in joining the Big XII, should the conference eventually decide to expand. If that counts as a move toward expansion, it's about as lukewarm as an Orlando swimming pool in summer.
Bowlsby won't have to look very hard. Multiple schools, including UCF, have contacted the Big XII, essentially to say, "Hey, how you doin'?"
Now UCF and a slew of others may very well get their chance to make a formal proposal to the league in the hopes that they will get one of two, or as many as four, roses from the 10-member conference as early as the league's meetings in November.
Let the media and fan freak-out begin all over the Group of Five.
What it means for UCF
I am on the record as a Big XII skeptic, and I've got the hate mail to prove it. That said, let me clarify some things:
- As a fan, I want UCF in the Power Five.
- I would rather it not be the Big XII, because Texas, but if it has to be that league, then so be it.
- I'm not convinced everyone in the Big XII 100% wants to expand.
- I'm not convinced Texas and Oklahoma will remain in the league if another round of expansion happens, thus turning the league into Conference USA South.
- If the Big XII expands, I think it should invite UCF, USF, Houston and Cincinnati.
- If it kicks Baylor out (extremely unlikely but still a non-zero possibility), add Memphis to that list.
- I reserve the right to change my mind on any UCF/Big XII expansion stance when presented with evidence. As John Maynard Keynes said, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"
Let's analyze this from a practical perspective. If the Big XII's consultants said in that room that, "Hey, guys, you need to expand, like, now," then this is how the news is going to get out of that room so not to rile people up any more than they already are.
As far as UCF, this means essentially nothing. Both the Big XII and UCF are aware of one another's existence and have been for a while. The league is also aware of UCF's profile, media market, enrollment and all of that. And, if he's smart, Dr. John Hitt has had his UCF_Big12.ppt file updated and on his desktop for quite some time now.
A look at those aboard the Speculatron will show you that, depending on which media figure you ask, UCF may or may not be a candidate, along with BYU, Cincinnati, UConn, Memphis, USF, Houston, Colorado State and Boise State.
Those same speculators seem hell-bent on 14 teams, which seems unlikely given the Big XII's tendency to be quite conservative. I mean, it's a Texas league after all.
What it could mean for UCF
With no conference network in the offing (because Texas), the Big XII's current TV deal with ESPN and FOX gives its members $23 million per year, per school for a full share (any new members likely wouldn't get a full share for a while, just like TCU and West Virginia).
As presumably everybody knows by now, the schools control their third-tier rights in the Big XII, rather than pooling those rights into a network like the SEC and Pac-12. This allows Texas to hold ESPN ransom to the tune of $15 million a year, thanks to its Longhorn Network.
In 2015, according to USA Today, UCF made a little over $51 million in revenue ($24 million of it from subsidies, including student fees). About $2 million came from its TV contract with The American Athletic Conference, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Joining the Big XII would be a huge windfall. But one of the keys for UCF could be its launch of a stand-alone digital broadcast platform, UCFKnights.tv. If UCF is pitching the Big XII, then the new network is a critical part of its strategy in leveraging its third-tier rights to its own benefit, skipping the regional network middlemen.
Key to this will be its subscriber numbers, as well. So yes, UCF fans, it's going to be time for you to step up financially once it goes live.
So what now?
We wait for September or November, or whenever an airplane leaves Orlando Executive Airport bound for the Dallas area with John Hitt aboard. Just remember the old cliche:
"Those who know don't speak, and those who speak don't know."
Until then, don't get too excited. It might not happen. At least, that's what I tell myself.