Will the Big 12 conference expand from 10 to 12 teams? There will be a meeting on this issue in a few weeks, with a possible decision later this summer. Other issues involve whether the conference should have a championship game and whether it can have a Big 12 Television Network. Reports have indicated that expansion eastward might be preferred to give West Virginia a travel partner.
BYU, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Memphis, Central Florida, Houston, South Florida, Boise State, and Colorado State have been talked about by the media as being the most likely candidates. Many of these schools have been publicly politicking to gain admission to the Big 12. None of the rumored schools are perfect--they all have their pros and cons.
Actually, the best candidate is perched elsewhere. One school that hasn't been mentioned, but should be at the top of the Big 12 expansion list is Temple.
The most important quality of any potential addition to the Big 12 is the size of the television market. This was the main reason that the Big 10 admitted Rutgers a few years ago. Temple blows most of the other candidates away on this criteria. The Philadelphia market is the fourth largest in the country, with over 2.9 million TV homes according to Nielsen. In contrast, Cincinnati is 36th at around 869,000 and Memphis is 50th at around 636,000. Orlando, where UCF, is located, is at number 19, with 1.49 million. UConn is trying to use its Jedi mind tricks to try to position itself as part of the New York city market, which it isn't. Storrs, Connecticut, UConn's home, is around 135 miles from Manhattan, while Temple is around 95 miles from Manhattan. Many media outlets, including the New York Times, have referred to Philadelphia as the Sixth Borough of New York.
The next most important aspect is quality of the football program. In the last decade, Temple has emerged as one of the better non-Power 5 football programs, especially in the AAC.
Temple is a totally different football program than the one that was unceremoniously booted from the Big East around 15 years ago. The Owls have been bowl eligible five of the last eight years. This past season they went 10-4, winning the AAC Eastern Division and being ranked in the Top 25 for several weeks. They also beat Penn State in a convincing 27-10 victory. Thousands of Temple fans swarmed Independence Mall for ESPN's College GameDay on the day of the Temple-Notre Dame game, where the Owls pushed the Irish to the limit.
Unlike 2001, the current Temple administration is solidly behind the football program and understands the value it can bring to a university. Applications skyrocketed this year in light of the Owls' successful football season. Temple has also grown into more of a residential campus as opposed to a commuter school. The culture is different than it was during the Big East days. Matt Rhule is a young, successful, energetic coach who likes living in Philadelphia.
Last year, Temple averaged over 44,000 fans per game, an increase of over 20,000 from the year before. Much of the increase was attributable to the huge crowds for Notre Dame and Penn State, but they drew over 35,000 against a mediocre Tulane team. Temple is also towards the top of the Big 12 candidates as far as number of students and alumni, with an undergraduate enrollment over 28,000 students.
Temple is located in one of the top high school football recruiting areas in the country--Pennsylvania and South Jersey--- and would help the Big 12 expand its recruiting footprint.
In terms of stadium and facilities, Temple will either renew its lease at Lincoln Financial Field, an excellent pro facility, or build a new state of the art stadium on campus.
As for basketball, Temple has one of the top programs of the potential candidates. The Owls are the fifth winningest program in the history of men's college basketball and have been to two final fours and five elite 8s, and have been to the NCAA tournament seven of the last nine seasons. Expansion to the Philadelphia area would give the Big 12 a recruiting foothold into the outstanding Philadelphia area high school basketball talent pool.
Academically, Temple is in the upper half of the expansion candidates, currently tied at 115th in the US News Rankings for National Universities, well ahead of Colorado State (tied at 127), Cincinnati (Tied at 140), South Florida (Tied at 156), Central Florida (tied at 168), Houston (tied at 187), and, presumably, Memphis (RNP, Rank Not Published and not listed in the top 200).
There is a mad scramble among non-Power 5 schools to be admitted to a Power 5 conference due to the huge disparity in financial revenue from television rights and bowl access and money. Big 12 schools received between $20 million and $24 million last year; SEC schools received over $31 million per team; teams in the AAC, Temple's conference, received $1.5 million per school, according to the New York Times.
Right now, Temple isn't being mentioned as a candidate, but that should change. If the media and the Big 12 examines the situation with an open mind, the Owls could swoop in and surprise everyone.
Larry Atkins teaches Journalism as an Adjunct Professor at Temple University. He is a graduate of Temple Law School.