CINCINNATI -- The reason the University of Cincinnati is trying to get in the Big 12 conference is two-fold: money and football.
The two are related.
The Big 12 is one of the Power 5 conferences, which means the Bearcats would have a chance to go to the College Football Playoffs. While that may be a pipe dream, the Big 12 would give UC a much better chance of getting into a BCS bowl — as UC did in 2008 and ’09 as a member of the Big East.
UC’s current conference, the American Athletic Conference, is not one of the power conferences. That means UC has virtually no chance of going to a BCS bowl, which comes with a big payday.
Think Orange Bowl vs. Belk.
The power conferences — the Big Ten, the SEC, ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12 — are haves in the college world.
Big 12 conference teams all got $26 million from the league last year. UC got $6 million from the AAC, while bringing in nearly $26 million in sports revenue last year.
So, economically, it’s likely to be good thing.
UC fans know it’s critical to get into a power conference.
“It’s the singular focus of the UC fans,” said WLW Sports Talk host Lance McAlister. “Getting in the Big 12 is all they want to talk about.”
And they want in.
“They do. It’s either that or good luck,” McAlister said. “With all they have done with Nippert and now with Fifth Third, they know if they don’t get in the Big 12, they’re relegated to being left as a mid-major.”
And it would be great to have teams like Texas and Oklahoma coming to town to play football and Kansas coming to town to play basketball.
But the biggest question might be: Is it a good fit for UC? Geographically, it’s not.
The Big 12 is spread over a vast area: Four of the schools are in Texas, two in Oklahoma and two in Kansas, one in Iowa and one in West Virginia.
Morgantown, home of the West Virginia Mountaineers, is 309 miles from Cincinnati. The next closest school is Iowa State. Lawrence is 609 miles from Cincinnati. WVU is the only other school in the Eastern Time Zone.
“The travel is difficult,” said Bob Huggins, former UC basketball coach who is now the coach at West Virginia. “The fact that they’re in a different time zone doesn’t help. So when we’re playing a 7 o’clock game for them, it’s an 8 o’clock game for us. After the game, you jump on a plane and get home at 2 or 3 in the morning. That’s difficult. You have to charter in this league.”
If Memphis, one of the other schools reportedly being considered by the Big 12, got in with UC, it would somewhat lessen the travel.
Basketball and football get the bulk of attention, but UC plays 15 other intercollegiate sports. All of those would have to make long road trips as well.
Waco, home of Baylor, is 1,030 miles from Cincinnati. That’s one long van trip for the tennis team.
Financially, UC would be entering a new stratosphere in the Big 12. For 2016, UC projected $30.1 million in athletic revenue and $46.9 million in athletic expenditures.
Texas took in $165.7 million in sports revenue in 2012-13 and had $146.8 million in expenses. Baylor and Texas Christian are on the low end of revenue in the conference with revenue, at about $70 million a year.
Even with an $86 million renovation and expansion of Nippert Stadium to 40,000 capacity, UC is not going to generate the kind of revenue the top-tier Big 12 schools do. Texas has a 100,000-seat stadium and its own cable network. Oklahoma an 82,000-seat stadium. Iowa State, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are all over 60,000.
UC averaged 37,096 in attendance this season. Only Kansas, winless in 2015, at 24,606 was under that. The next lowest was TCU at 46,673.
The Big 12 expansion is driven by football. A research firm determined that going to 12 teams and having a championship game would increase the chances of the Big 12 getting a playoff team by 5 percent.
The Big 12 had one team (Oklahoma) in the four-team playoff in 2016, only to be shut out by reigning champion Clemson.
Right now, basketball in the Big 12 may be better than football. Three teams made the Sweet 16 this year, two made the Elite Eight and one made the Final Four. Five of the 10 teams finished the season in the AP Top 25.
“It’s the best conference I’ve ever been in,” Huggins said. “Great coaching. Great players. The list of total number of players drafted and lottery picks is astounding, and we’re doing it with 10 teams, while other conferences have 14 or 16. We have the second most of any conference.”
Huggins, of course, knows UC’s history.
Does he see the Big 12 as a fit?
“They don’t have a choice,” he said. “TV drives it — and money. Big money.”