Big 12 Expansion – Let History, Geography, and Mathematics Be Your Guide

Since the Big 12 is talking about expanding, I’ve taken a look at the teams who historically, geographically, and mathematically would be good fits in the conference.

TL;DR – Add Houston and SMU. If you want 14 teams, add Memphis and Tulsa too.

Here’s who they shouldn’t add: any team closer to the Atlantic Ocean than to the Mississippi River (Gulf of Mexico excluded), any team that’s closer to the Pacific Ocean than the Mississippi River, or anyone from Ohio.


The Big 12 is basically a combination of the old Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association, which later split to eventually become the Big 8 and Missouri Valley Conference, and the Southwest Conference.

Missouri Valley (1907-1927)
Iowa St.
Kansas St.
Oklahoma St.

The predecessor to the Big 8 began with Kansas, Mizzou, and Nebraska in 1907. Iowa St. joined the following year and Kansas St. in 1913. The Oklahoma schools joined later in the 1920s.

When the MVIAA broke apart, Oklahoma St. stayed in what became the MVC. Joining them later were two schools that still currently have D-IA football:

Missouri Valley Conference (1935-1956)
Oklahoma St.

Southwest (1915-1996)
Texas A&M

Texas Tech was a member of the Border Conference and West Virginia should be in a conference with Marshall.

So our first tier of candidates are the teams with historical ties the current Big 12 teams.

  1. Missouri – recently left for the SEC, isn’t coming back
  2. Nebraska – recently left for the Big Ten, isn’t coming back
  3. Arkansas – Has been a member of the SEC for almost a quarter century, isn’t coming back.
  4. Rice – current member of C-USA, potential candidate
  5. Texas A&M – recently left for the SEC, isn’t coming back
  6. SMU – current member of American conference, potential candidate
  7. Colorado was an addition to the original seven schools to create the Big 8 – recently left for the Pac-12, isn’t coming back.
  8. Tulsa – current member of American conference, potential candidate
  9. Houston – current member of American conference, potential candidate


The second tier of candidates will be those who geographically “make sense.” Excluding West Virginia and Texas Tech as geographical outliers, the biggest traveler is Iowa St., who travels a little over 600 miles on average to play other Big 12 schools. Using that number as a guide, the following schools reside in cities approximately 600 miles away or less than at least three current Big 12 members (excluding TTU and WVU). Excluded from the list are those that have already been taken out of consideration above and members of other Power 5 conferences. They are ranked by the number of Big 12 members that are 600 miles away or less.

Within 600 Miles of Eight Schools

Seven Schools
North Texas and SMU (all but Iowa St.)
Arkansas St. (all but Texas)

Six Schools
Memphis (all but Texas and Iowa St.)

Five Schools
Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana-Lafayette, Houston, Rice, UTSA, and Texas St. (all but North schools)

Four Schools
Air Force (OU, OK St., K-State, and KU)

Three Schools
Northern Illinois (North schools)
Tulane (UT, BU, and TCU)


Next, I’d assume the Big 12 would want to add as high-quality of a team as possible. Here are the records of the remaining candidates (in no particular order) over the last five years along with their S&P+ five-year average and the three-year trend of their S&P+ numbers.

School 5-Yr. Record S&P+ 5-Yr. Rk. 3-Yr. Trend
Rice 34-30 (.531) #99 (-7.2) down (m = -9.1)
SMU 23-39 (.371) #95 (-5.9) down (-3.4)
Tulsa 30-34 (.469) #76 (-2.0) stable (-1.85)
North Texas 23-38 (.377) #105 (-9.8) down (-15.5)
Houston 47-20 (.701) #50 (2.8) stable (0.3)
Texas St. 20-28 (.417) #114 (-11.6) stable (0.25)
UTSA 22-26 (.458) #109 (-10.2) down (-8.75)
Arkansas St. 44-21 (.677) #68 (0.2) stable (0.6)
Memphis 28-34 (.452) #88 (-5.0) up (4.4)
Louisiana Tech 39-25 (.609) #65 (0.4) up (14.5)
Louisiana-Monroe 24-38 (.387) #110 (-10.3) down (-4.45)
Louisiana-Lafayette 40-24 (.625) #94 (-5.8) down (-3)
Northern Illinois 54-16 (.771) #56 (1.5) stable (0.1)
Tulane 17-45 (.274) #118 (-12.6) down (-9.0)
Air Force 33-32 (.508) #92 (-5.2) up (10.45)

Finally, much like the Big 10 added Rutgers and Maryland for basically no other reason than the markets in which they play, I’d include size of the metro area and attendance as a factor in the decision.

School Metro Pop. Avg. 2015 Attendance
Rice Houston, TX (6.3 million) 19,300
SMU Dallas, TX (7.1 million) 21,000
Tulsa Tulsa, OK (1 million) 19,600
North Texas Dallas, TX (7.1 million) 13,600
Houston Houston, TX (6.3 million) 34,000
Texas St. Austin, TX (1.7 million) 18,200
UTSA San Antonio, TX (2.1 million) 23,000
Arkansas St. Jonesboro-Paragould, AR (0.17 million) 23,000
Memphis Memphis, TN (1.3 million) 39,300
Louisiana Tech Ruston, LA (0.06 million) 21,000
Lousisiana-Monroe Monroe, LA (0.17 million) 13,200
Lousisiana-Lafayatte Lafayette, LA (0.48 million) 21,600
Northern Illinois DeKalb, IL (0.11 million) 13,900
Tulane New Orleans, LA (1.2 million) 22,900
Air Force Colorado Springs, CO (0.69 million) 26,000

Big 12 average attendance: 56,800

After all that, I ranked and gave all of the above information a percent value. I weighted the historical information at 10%, geography at 15% and team quality/market* at 75%. Here are the results.

Team History Geography Math Weighted Total
Houston 50% 40% 84% 74%
SMU 100% 80% 43% 54%
Memphis 0% 60% 51% 47%
Tulsa 50% 100% 35% 46%
Louisiana Tech 0% 40% 50% 43%
Rice 100% 40% 36% 43%
Arkansas St. 0% 80% 41% 43%
Air Force 0% 20% 45% 37%
North Texas 0% 80% 24% 30%
UL-Lafayette 0% 40% 31% 29%
Northern Illinois 0% 0% 37% 28%
Texas St. 0% 40% 29% 27%
UTSA 0% 40% 28% 27%
ULM 0% 40% 14% 17%
Tulane 0% 0% 18% 13%

*Since the Big 12 already has a share of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, I halved UNT’s and SMU’s population numbers. Also, since Houston finished first, I halved Rice’s population number since they would be a second addition to the Houston area.

There you have it. If the Big 12 expands by two teams, those spots should go to Houston and SMU. Both are fits historically and geographically. The addition of the Houston area would have to be a good thing in the eyes of the Big 12. Houston is an up-an-coming program who has done well nationally despite being in a Group of Five conference. SMU would bring in the eastern half of DFW and, hopefully, being part of the Big 12 would improve recruiting and a cross-town rivalry could develop with TCU.

If the Big 12 were to expand to 14 teams (a proposition I am in support of since they play nine conference games), they should also add Memphis and Tulsa. Both fit well geographically and while Memphis doesn’t have any direct historical ties to the Big 12, they were members of the MVC with Tulsa for a short time. Memphis and Tulsa are both relatively large markets and would give the Big 12 a corner of the South. Memphis is another team on the rise and would likely be an upper-half team in the expanded Big 12.

Here’s what my 12- and 14-team conference divisions would look like.

12-Teams 14-Teams
Iowa St. Iowa St.
K-State K-State
Kansas Kansas
West Virginia West Virginia
Oklahoma St. Oklahoma St.
Oklahoma Oklahoma
Baylor Baylor
Texas Tech Texas Tech
Texas Texas
Houston Houston

What would have been a likely conference championship game in 2015 with these divisions? TCU vs. Oklahoma. I think I’d have been OK with that.

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