Big 12 expansion has been a hot topic this offseason. While I would be utterly shocked if Utah jumped for the Pac-12 to the Big 12, a potential Big 12 expansion could have ramifications for the Utes. We will take a look at a couple ways Big 12 expansion could affect Utah.
1. The teams that the Big 12 might add
One name that is being thrown around for Big 12 expansion is BYU, Utah's biggest rival. Utah and BYU spent many years in the same conference in the WAC and Mountain West before Utah jumped to the Pac-12 in 2011 and BYU went independent. While rivalries can survive between teams not in the same conference (Pac-12 examples include Notre Dame against USC and Stanford and Colorado against Colorado State), conference realignments have caused some traditional rivalry games to go by the wayside (for example Colorado no longer playing Nebraska). Rivalries need to benefit both sides to continue as nonconference games. With BYU as an independent, the Holy War benefits BYU far more than Utah. Beating BYU does not significantly change local recruiting, and it does not give Utah the national exposure that playing a team like Michigan does. However, if BYU were to move into the Big 12, they would become a Power Five opponent, which would change the dynamic of the rivalry and provide more benefit for Utah. It would be a game between two Power Five opponents that are heated rivals, making it higher profile.
2. Could the Pac-12 lose teams to the Big 12?
While this is unlikely, Greg Hansen of Arizona Daily Star looks at some reasons why the Big 12 might be a better fit for Arizona (and possibly ASU). Some of his reasons were fewer late night games, less travel expenses, and the possibility of more money. If the Big 12 managed to steal one or both of the Arizona schools, it would drop the Pac-12 down to 10 teams. This would mean the conference might have to look at teams like Boise State, BYU, Colorado State, and/or Houston to bump that conference back up to 12 or more teams. While this scenario is unlikely, it would have huge implications on the Pac-12 South and Utah.
3. Could Drama in the Big 12 lead to Pac-12 Expansion?
While Pac-12 expansion does not sound like it is a big priority, Big 12 expansion could possibly be a driving force. Before the Pac-12 existed, there was talk of an even bigger conference that included Oklahoma and Texas among others. There was still interest from Oklahoma in 2011 to move West to the Pac-12. Oklahoma president David Boren is pro Big 12 expansion, but other members may not be. The University of Texas at Austin is the king of college football in Texas, and the Longhorns reportedly do not want to expand and are possibly "convincing" TCU and Texas Tech to vote against it as well (the Big 12 needs eight out of 10 schools to vote for expansion for it to happen), effectively blocking Big 12 expansion. If Oklahoma is serious about being in a conference with a playoff and likes the idea of moving to the Pac-12, that could have huge implications for the conference. A rift because of the expansion talks could tear apart the conference (which almost happened back in 2011). It likely would only make sense to have Oklahoma join if the Big 12 did fall apart and Oklahoma State, Texas Tech/TCU, and Texas along with the Sooners, forming a 16 team super conference, the Pac-16.
In all likelihood, whatever happens with the Big 12 will not impact Utah much if at all. BYU is a name that is being floated around as part of Big 12 expansion, but I would imagine teams like Cincinnati, Memphis, and South Florida would be more likely candidates to be added to the Big 12. Why? Well, BYU has their own TV network and do not play games on Sundays. The TV network would likely be a problem since the rest of the Big 12 is not a fan of Texas having the Longhorn Network. Further, if the Big 12 were to expand, it seems more likely that the conference would expand into large media markets in the Eastern United States, which would give West Virginia a travel partner that they so desperately need. I also doubt the Arizona schools would leave the Pac-12 for the Big 12. As exciting as the Pac-16 would be, it seems very unlikely that that would happen. It seemed much more plausible in 2010/2011/2012 and did not happen then, so it likely will not happen this offseason (especially not with Oklahoma and Texas). Big 12 expansion is something that Utah fans should pay attention to even if it does not deeply impact the Utes because it could have some impact on the college football landscape.