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Big 12 newcomers receive warm welcome as business rolls on

5 min read
BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF were all a part of Big 12 Media Days for the first time this week, and it wasn't hard to spot their excitement about being there. [Matt Tait photo]

Arlington, Texas — This week’s Big 12 Media Days at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas featured a nice welcoming party for four Big 12 newcomers, BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF.

That group officially became members of the league on July 1, and the day brought big time celebrations in all four cities. It’s crystal clear that all four programs are thrilled to be in the Big 12 and, after this week, it’s also clear that the league is happy to have them.

Second-year commissioner Brett Yormark said the recent response to joining the conference, by all four schools, which featured all-out euphoria and gratitude, showed why the Big 12 should be thrilled to welcome them. Nearly all of the coaches who spoke this week either welcomed the newcomers with open arms or expressed how happy they were to be joining the league.

“We're excited to be partnered with those four new schools,” Yormark said. “We’re now in eight states. We reach over 75 million people in our footprint now with the help of those four schools. They bring a lot of value to this conference.”

For one year, the Big 12 will be a 14-team league, moving from 10 to 14 with the addition of the newbies. After that, it will drop back down to 12, with Oklahoma and Texas leaving for the SEC.

Expansion came up during Yormark’s remarks and Q&A on Wednesday, but it never got real detailed. The commissioner said the Big 12 has a plan and believes it can execute that plan sooner than later, but emphasized that the conference would not get caught up in chasing a number.

That means the league could stay at 12. But Yormark also said he believes in the theory that there’s strength in numbers so pursuing expansion candidates to move to 14 or more is very much on the table, as well. Regardless of what happens — and when — the focus now is on the four new schools and what they bring to the conference.

Kansas football coach Lance Leipold touted the balance of the Big 12 from top to bottom, saying that he believed the four new schools would add “even more strength to make (the Big 12) the most exciting conference in Power Five football.”

For starters, the biggest thing I noticed from the newcomers at Big 12 Media Days this week was a sincere appreciation for being in the league to begin with.

Representatives from all four universities, decked out in their school colors, hustled across the AT&T Stadium field from one place to another during their first Big 12 Media Days appearance. Each one that I encountered seemed to have a noticeable twinkle in his or her eye, akin to that of a high school freshman who accidentally made his way into the seniors hall and could not believe how awesome it was to be that close to the cool kids.

Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t think there’s going to be some sticker-shock mentality with these schools for the entirety of the 2023-24 school year. Many of them are bringing programs ¬— in all sports — that are as good or better than several of the longstanding Big 12 programs they’ll be competing against.

Houston football coach Dana Holgorsen, who previously was the head coach at West Virginia and spent 17 seasons in the Big 12, provided a clear glimpse at that fact, addressing media members with joy over his program’s move to the Big 12 while also expressing with clarity that he knows both how to compete in the league and how tough it can be.

"Without getting too much into it, there used to be a few lay-ups back in the day. There aren't any lay-up (any more)," Holgorsen said. "The parity is good, the coaching is unbelievable, the facilities are spectacular, the support is unbelievable. I'm so excited to be back in the league, and the University of Houston is excited to be a part of it.”

While Yormark tried hard to convince the room that the 2023-24 school year would also be about celebrating the legacy and contributions to the conference that outgoing members Oklahoma and Texas had created, not everyone was in the let’s-hug-it-out spirit.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was asked about the possibility for OSU to continue its Bedlam series with Oklahoma as a non-conference showdown and he fell back on previous comments he had made about the Sooners’ decision to join the SEC.

“Oklahoma State is not going to change what we do because Oklahoma chose to go to the SEC,” Gundy said. “They need to change what they do because they’re the ones that made their mind up to go to the SEC. … Everybody needs to realize, (the end of Bedlam) didn’t have to happen if they didn’t change leagues. So, with all the talk from administration and people saying that Oklahoma State needs to do this and that, all Oklahoma had to do was not go to the SEC.”

TCU coach Sonny Dykes, who led the Horned Frogs to the national championship game a season ago, elected to point out that some past Big 12 members who had already made that jump weren’t exactly finding the same type of success or much at all for that matter.

“I think every institution has to answer the question, ‘Is it a good move for us?’” Dykes told reporters. “I know at that time Missouri was playing in a lot of Big 12 championship games. I haven’t seen that happen since they made the move to the SEC. Texas A&M was a competitive program, and haven’t really seen that a whole lot since they moved to the SEC. Don’t know what's going to happen with Oklahoma and Texas. If it’s all about lining your pockets with money, then the decisions are really easy and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and don’t look back. You can say, ‘Well, we were 4-8, but we made a lot of money.’ At the end of the day, if that’s what it’s about, then congratulations.”

“The rivalry between UCLA and Rutgers, I think it’s a natural rivalry,” he added of the soon-to-be Big Ten brothers that are separated by nearly 3,000 miles across the country. “I’m anxious to see how that plays out. Is that stuff good for college football? That’s not really my place.”

Regardless of what’s happening elsewhere — or what may happen in the near or distant future — Yormark made it clear on Wednesday that his focus is on his own backyard. And he does not appear to be all that interested in worrying much beyond that because he has created a conference that has plenty happening within its walls to keep him busy.

“I’m not really competing with the other Power Five conferences,” Yormark said. “I want the Big 12 to be the best version of ourselves. If we can do that, we’re in a great place. It’s not about ranking us within the Power Five. But I can tell you this: There's been no better time to be a part of the Big 12 than right now. This thing is going to grow. It’s going to move forward in a positive way. I’m really excited about our future.”

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