In another sign of a precarious era of realignment in college sports, the Big 12 Conference moved Friday to add Brigham Young University, Cincinnati, Houston and the University of Central Florida, with the colleges able to join as early as 2023.
B.Y.U. will join the Big 12 on July 1, 2023, while the other three programs will join the league no later than July 1, 2024, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby told reporters on Friday.
The Big 12 had been moving quickly to compensate for the departure of Texas and Oklahoma to the stacked Southeastern Conference, which houses three of the top five football teams (with No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Georgia and No. 5 Texas A&M). In July, Texas and Oklahoma, two of the Big 12’s founding member schools, announced in a joint statement that they would not renew their existing TV deals beyond 2025, leaving the conference with little choice but to start searching for other candidates to fill the impending hole.
Houston, Central Florida and Cincinnati are currently in the American Athletic Conference, which will dwindle to nine schools after they leave. The A.A.C.’s rules require schools to give a 27-month notice and pay a $10 million buyout before exiting the conference.
Texas and Oklahoma are scheduled to depart the league in 2025, but could leave sooner. If not, the Big 12 could potentially have some overlap with its new and outgoing members.
No matter what, Bowlsby said, the scheduling and organization of all of its sports would have to be considered anew, with divisions likely in some and early decisions needed on how many conference football games each team should play.
In a statement, B.Y.U. President Kevin J Worthen said joining the Big 12 gives B.Y.U., which is an independent school in football, an “opportunity to reinforce that commitment for student-athletes, allowing them to compete at the highest level both on and off the field.”
Chris Pezman, Houston’s athletic director, in a statement described its move as a “years-in-the-making announcement.”
“Our collective past performances have led us to the opportunity we have today,” Pezman said. “We are humbled, honored, excited and ready to get to work.”
For the Big 12, the maneuver represents yet another bounce-back in recent history. The conference appeared to be on the verge of collapse in the early 2010s when four schools (Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado and Texas A&M) left the conference during another era of N.C.A.A. realignment. That left the Big 12 with only 10 schools. The league managed to survive with an influx of TV money from Fox and when Texas, which had threatened a departure to what was then the Pacific 10, agreed to stay put (until recently).
Bowlsby said he was confident that with the additions the Big 12 could retain its power as one of the five richest conferences in college sports.
“We’ve added both numerically, and we’ve added with high quality,” he said, adding: “I think we’re moving in the direction of the five autonomy conferences having more to say about how the rules are constructed and managed than less.”
Just last month, the Pac-12, Big Ten and Atlantic Coast conferences formed an alliance in response to the bolstering of the SEC as a way to navigate the current era of realignment.
Since then, the Pac-12 has denied any intentions of expanding its conference, and no formal expansion plans have come from the Big Ten or A.C.C., either. Bowlsby said Friday, though, that the Big 12 could potentially invite more members.
“I wouldn’t suggest that we’re done,” Bowlsby said. “Our board will want to keep its eye on what’s going on. If there are targets or opportunity, we would think about that.”
The Big Ten, Pac-12 and A.C.C. will also certainly want say in a proposal to expand the College Football Playoff from four to 12 teams to make sure their teams are as well-positioned as possible given the SEC’s current dominance in the sport.
Bowlsby was a member of a subcommittee — including the commissioners of the Mountain West and Southeastern conferences, and the Notre Dame athletic director — that looked at expanding the playoff, and is in favor of expanding to 12 teams. He said Friday that he expects that it is now a “relative certainty” that the playoff will expand from four. He added that the plans should be more clear after a board meeting at the end of the month.
The A.A.C. now begins its search to add more members. Its Commissioner, Mike Aresco, said in a statement that the realignment news confirms “what we have said all along regarding our status as a power conference.”
“The irony that three of our schools are being asked to take the place of the two marquee schools which are leaving the Big 12 is not lost on us,” Aresco added. “Our conference was targeted for exceeding expectations in a system that wasn’t designed to accommodate our success.”