Rejoice Mustang fans, the Big 12 is not expanding.
While SMU made the initial list of finalists for Big 12 expansion, along with 12 other schools, the chances of the Mustangs making the leap to the Power Five seem to be a few years away. Especially in the Big 12, what SMU has to offer simply doesn’t make sense for a conference looking to expand its TV footprint.
Conferences make money by adding new markets. The Big 12 was looking to secure teams in states where they don’t currently have teams, thus securing the cable subscribers of that particular state. This is exactly why the SMU Mustangs never made sense.
In Texas, the presence of Texas, Texas Tech, TCU, and Baylor in the Big 12 ensures that Big 12 games are broadcast in nearly every household in the Lone Star state. Additionally, the fan bases of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have massive presences in the metroplex, where SMU derives the majority of its fans. While it’s certainly good for SMU fans to dream of a return to the glory days and a Southwest Conference renaissance in the Big 12, that was never a realistic option for a team which doesn’t offer much in terms of television, market expansion, or on field product.
However, while SMU is not the most attractive expansion candidate for the Big 12, a number of their fiercest conference rivals are. Reportedly, the top two candidates for expansion were Houston and BYU, though they were closely followed by Memphis, Cincinnati, UConn, UCF, and USF. If the Big 12, or any Power Five conference for that matter, plucked a handful of those schools from the American Athletic Conference, it would be absolutely devastating for the Mustangs. They would lose the vast majority of their top competition in football, as well as some rapidly developing basketball rivalries in the process.
Most of all, the American Athletic Conference retains the incredible reputation it’s built for itself through just three years of existence. Consider that in 2016, the AAC has overtaken the Big 12 in terms of winning percentage in non-conference games against FBS teams, making them the fifth-ranked conference in the nation. They had 10 wins against Power Five opponents last season. The AAC has never lost a New Year’s Eve bowl, with UCF and Houston securing victories over Baylor and Florida State. With three teams in the top 25, the AAC is finally getting the respect it deserves on the gridiron.
Furthermore, the AAC success expands beyond football. In 2014, UConn secured both the men’s and women’s basketball national championships. The conference has the highest attendance numbers for any league outside the Power Five. Schools across the conference have produced dozens of Olympians to represent their country in the world’s premier athletic competition.
This conference is making a massive push to be considered among the Power Five, and the stability of the AAC can only benefit SMU. The Mustangs have the most traditional rivalries of any team in this conference, and with a move to the Power Five extremely unlikely, they have the most to lose from other conferences taking teams out of the American.
However, with Big 12 expansion on the back burner for now, the Mustangs can continue to contribute to the growing brand of the AAC, without the threat of their conference dissipating due to Power Five expansion. I’m sure the expansion talks will come up again at some point, but in the meantime, the AAC can continue to grow its national brand and make a push for consideration as a top conference in the nation. That’s great news for the SMU faithful.