Divvying Up The Big 12

As the Big 12 Conference prepares for its future as an appropriately-titled conference, which has the same number of schools as its name indicates, it also has something of a knotty problem, with several sub-components. How will it split into divisions once newcomers BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and USF come aboard? How will Oklahoma and Texas be grouped, assuming that the traitorous two are unable to negotiate an exit that either coincides with the addition of the new schools or occurs prior to 2025? And why would the Big 12 allow a departing school to be part of the working group that is looking at different scenarios?

What’s going to happen, and when?

First and foremost, none of this work signals any indication that Texas and Oklahoma will depart before the end of their grant of rights after the 2024-25 season. However, due to NCAA rules, conferences with 12 or more teams are required to split into divisions for football, so when the new schools come on board, divisions will have to be in place for football competition.

Even if Texas and Oklahoma work out an earlier departure that would require a large payout from each to the league, and right now the Big 12 is holding out for all of it – something in the neighborhood of $80 million per school – the league still has to be ready for divisional play, and probably altered schedules in other sports, in the 2023 school year. With several scenarios possible as to when OU and UT depart, the solution needs to meet not only possibilities for a 14-team league, but also for a 12-team group when its final membership is reached.

There’s not a rush to get this done, but it likely needs to be completed within the next 3-4 months, as schools will have to begin scheduling their home venues and working out travel plans for the fall of 2023, when the four newcomers will likely come aboard.

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Who’s working on this?

According to a CBS Sports report, the working group includes Big 12 senior associate commissioner Ed Stewart, and administrators from Baylor, TCU, Kansas State and …Texas. Why would the Longhorns be included, when they are one of the two schools that caused all of this upheaval?

It’s mostly a political move. The Big 12 wants to collect all of the money it would be due via early exit fees if OU or UT leave early, and it doesn’t want to do anything that could be perceived as pushing the SoonerHorns out the door, or not dealing with them “fairly.” (That OU and UT didn’t act fairly is, at this point, clear, but not a subject that the league wants to press, again for the monetary reasons stated above. That consideration will also likely be in play as the division splits and schedule structures are worked out. The league is going to tread lightly to ensure that the lawyers of OU and UT don’t have any ammunition to use in trying to lower its exit fees.

How will the teams be divided?

Of course, every other school in the league, if asked privately, would like to return the jab that OU\UT delivered by putting them in opposite divisions, and working out a schedule structure where they didn’t play each other in-conference. While that would feel good, it also could hurt the league long term, both for the reason described above and for the fact that the TV rights owners want that game played every year. By doing so, the Big 12 can show, at least on the face of it, that it will be team players, even when OU\UT are not.

So, even if the two schools did wind up in separate divisions, they would assuredly be a “crossover” foe that is guaranteed to play every year.

There are several different models being considered, with bases in geography and competitive strength being two. The latter should be thrown out immediately, as teams’ abilities bounce up and down, and certainly don’t track across all sports. While divisions won’t exist in every other sport, unbalanced schedules are going to be part of the landscape in basketball, baseball and volleyball as well as football, and there’s no way to sort all of those out and have any assurance that a competitive balance exists for or five years from now in the choices made today.

Map of Big 12 Schools

Therefore, geography and helping with travel costs, while also keeping traditional rivalries, should be the focus. The most logical play floated early was an East-West split:

          EAST                        WEST
Cincinnati                    Baylor
Houston                      BYU
Iowa State                  Oklahoma
Kansas                        Oklahoma State
Kansas State               Texas
UCF                            Texas Tech
West Virginia               TCU

OK, this isn’t perfect. Also, it would require some reshuffling when OU and UT depart the league, but that could be easily addressed by moving Houston to the West division when that occurs. There has been some sentiment to avoid further disruption when the league moves back from 14 teams to 12, by putting OU and UT in different divisions so that each can be discarded when they leave, but really, is that a big consideration when looking at all of the uproar Oklahoma and Texas caused?

A North-South split as proposed by one website could also be in play, but while that might favor WVU a bit competitive balance in some sports, it would be bad from a travel perspective, as it would put WVU’s two closest foes (Cincinnati and Iowa State) in the opposite division. There’s simply no need to do that, as the only reason to choose a North-South split would be to pay homage to the old Big 12 divisional alignments that ran from 1996-2010.

      NORTH                         SOUTH
BYU                            Baylor
Cincinnati                    Houston
Iowa State                  TCU
Kansas                       Texas
Kansas State               Texas Tech
Oklahoma                   UCF
Oklahoma State           West Virginia

What else is in play in the decision?

While football drives the bus, there has to be some consideration given to scheduling in both men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and volleyball, all of which played round-robin schedules of differing types in recent years. Basketball’s home-and- home schedules were, like football, straightforward, but with 14 or 12 schools, those are going to go away. Some sort of rotating schedule alignment will be put in place, with conference totals of 18 games likely to stay the standard.

Baseball has alternated home-and-away three-game series each year, yielding a total of 24 games per year in the past. All four of the new schools have baseball, so once the dust settles, there could be 30 league games if the round-robin schedule is continued. Volleyball, which has also continued round-robin play, with an interesting twist, will also see all four new schools bring teams into the league. While volleyball has continued to schedule two league matches between schools, it has provided some travel cost and time help by playing those on back-to-back days at the same venue.

For example, WVU volleyball opened its Big 12 season this past season by hosting Oklahoma on back-to-back nights. That returned the visit the Mountaineers made to Norman in 2020, when it played two matches on successive days at the Sooners’ venue. Could that idea be put in play in other sports? There are no doubt some objections to that idea (we can hear some basketball coaches screaming now), but that could be implemented in some other sports.

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  • This topic has 6 replies, 4 voices, and was last updated by Kevin Kinder.
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  • #170901

    As the Big 12 Conference prepares for its future as an appropriately-titled conference, which has the same number of schools as its name indicates, it
    [See the full post at: Divvying Up The Big 12]

    #170910

    Kevin,

    this was very helpful analysis but why would WVU be in a South division? We’re further north than everybody except maybe Iowa state.

    #170938

    IMO, why would they put WVU in the North division with BYU which is more than 1900 miles from WVU?

    Of the original B-12 teams before notice of Texas/Oklahoma exit, WVU is further from BYU than any other B-12 school.

    How would that affect non-revenue sports if they were in the same division?

    #171127

    My hope is, there are East-West divisions set up in the B-12 with WVU, Cincinnati, Kansas, Iowa State, and UCF in the same division.  Either a team from Texas or Oklahoma being team six.

    I realize that each team would need a traditional rival from the other division that would be treated as a division partner such as Kansas State being the traditional partner of Kansas.  The two teams playing each other just as if they were in the same division.

    While they remain part of the conference, Texas and Oklahoma could be traditional rivals with Oklahoma in the East and Texas in the West.  They would play each other, and for all practical purposes between the two schools treated as if they were in the same division.

    WVU would also need a traditional partner with a Texas school, Texas Tech, Texas Christian or Baylor.

    #171154

    with OU and UT out; I would like our div to be:
    WVU, Cinn, UCF, Kansas, KST, and Iowa St

    #171174

    I don’t think that Kansas State should be in the East division.  With that division, the two toughest teams, as it now stands, would be in the same division.  Remove Kansas State and replace it with either Oklahoma State or Baylor.  I would prefer Oklahoma State in the East.  But, I’ve heard there’s flack against that because Oklahoma State wants to play the Texas schools, instead of playing just one or two Texas schools.

    That would have no effect on the Kansas-Kansas State game each year because each division team would have to have one team from the other division they would have a full schedule with each year.

    Kansas-Kansas State WVU TCU as their other division partners would be the way to start.

    #171182

    but why would WVU be in a South division? We’re further north than everybody except maybe Iowa state.

    I think people doing North South divisions are just copying the old Big 12 setup, which was also split that way. Hopefully that’s not the case this time – E-W seems to make more sense.

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Home Page forums Divvying Up The Big 12