Big 12 Expansion: Impact on Softball Programs
If you follow college sports, you’ve probably heard that the Big 12 is looking to expand. At first they weren’t going to expand and everyone thought the expansion conversation was dead. Then, in the Big 12 Days for Media, Bob Bowlsby announced that he had been given approval to begin examining two or four potential candidates for expansion.
We all know that money and football are driving the decision to expand the conference. With the current television contracts in place, ESPN and Fox will have to pay approximately $ 25 million more for each school added by the Big 12. This appears to be a problem with television rights holders, though.
So will they add two or four teams? Who will those teams be? At this point, no one knows, but the speculation is running wild and the list seems to grow every day.
We know that soccer is going to be the biggest factor in deciding which teams will be added, but we decided to look at it from a softball perspective and see what each potential candidate brings to the table in terms of their softball program.
At this point, almost all schools that are not in a power 5 conference are candidates. We limit ourselves to these seven as we see them as the most viable options.
BYU is probably the team most frequently mentioned when discussing the Big 12 expansion. Currently an independent in soccer his other sports are at the West Coast Conference (WCC).
Coach: Gordan Eakin (14 years old)
2016 record: 36-21 (12-3 in WCC)
Conference Championships: 12 – Last in 2016
The Cougars have been dominant for the last more than 10 years in whatever conference they have been a member of. They have won eight consecutive conference championships in four different conferences (WCC, Pacific Coast Softball, WAC, MWC). They have gone to the NCAA Regionals for 11 consecutive seasons, advancing to the Super Regional in 2010 against Arizona. Add in the fact that BYU has the fourth largest NCAA softball facility on campus and BYU would be a perfect fit with the other Big 12 schools.
Another team that is mentioned often is Houston. His location in Texas and the recent success of his soccer team has helped raise his profile.
Coach: Kristin Vesely (1st season)
2016 record: 27-29 (9-9 in AAC)
Conference Championships: 0
Although Houston has not won a conference championship, it has been to the NCAA Regionals 7 times. Last appearance in 2014. Twice they have advanced to the Super Regionals, losing to Oklahoma State in 2011. Houston plays its home games at the 2,000-seat Cougar Softball Stadium. New coach Kristin Vesely will take over in 2017, but she has been a part of the program for several years. Before Vesely, the Cougars were coached by Kyla Holas, who was 563-376-1 in 16 seasons. In 2016, Houston played 4 teams from the Big 12 and was 3-4 in those games. With a little time and financial backing from a Power 5 conference, Houston could become an all-year contender in the Big 12.
University of South Florida:
If the Big 12 is going to expand, many people think they want to enter the Florida market and have mentioned USF as one of those options. The Bulls, led by Ken Erickson, play in a new stadium and have postseason history.
Coach: Ken Erickson (20 years old)
2016 record: 45-16 (15-3 AAC)
Conference Championships: 5
Coach Erickson has led the USF to the NCAA Regionals 12 times. They have twice advanced to the Super Regionals and have an appearance in the Women’s College World Series in 2012. In 2011, the Bulls opened the USF Softball Stadium. The history and facilities would compare well to those of the other 12 great teams. With their Tampa location, the Bulls have access to a lot of talent to keep competing.
University of Central Florida:
UCF is almost always mentioned alongside USF as they are only one hour apart. Adding both schools would give the Big 12 a solid presence in the state of Florida. Not to mention, it would make scheduling and travel a little easier for both schools. UCF is the second largest university in the country with 63,000 students.
Coach: Renee Luers-Gillispie (15th season)
2016 record: 38-22 (12-4 in AAC)
Conference Championships: 4
The Knights have been to the NCAA Regionals six times, including in 2015, where they were eliminated by the Florida Gators. In March 2006 they opened the UCF Softball Complex, at the time one of the best facilities in the AAC. The program has come a long way under the direction of coach Renee Luers-Gillispie, who started the program in 2002. Competing every weekend in the big 12 could be a challenge for the Knights for a few years. In time and with a commitment to softball, they could become a competitive team in the Big 12.
The Tigers have recently started to gain support as candidates for the Big 12 expansion primarily because of Fedex offering their support. The company has pledged millions in sponsorship dollars for the Big 12, but how that will affect the Big 12 decision remains to be seen. From a softball perspective, the Tigers would have a hard time reaching the top half of the conference.
Coach: Natalie Poole (6 seasons)
2016 record: 26-31 (7-11 in AAC)
Conference Championships: 0
The Tigers make an NCAA Regional appearance in 2011. They have never won a conference tournament. However, they have only played softball since 2006. In that time they are 258-291 in total. Their current roster is filled with kids from all over the Southeast and some from the West Coast, so the Memphis brand is spreading. The question is, what is the university’s commitment to sports? Given the big $ 12, that commitment could grow.
State of Colorado:
The state of Colorado has started to gain momentum as a possible addition to the Big 12 conference. Some of that has to do with the location and area of Denver that has a lot of Big 12 students. The Big 12 lost Colorado to the Pac-12 and could easily replace them with the Rams and win back Denver’s television market.
Coach: Jen Fisher (6 seasons)
2016 record: 22-24 (8-12 at MWC)
Conference Championships: 4 – Last in 2004
The Rams have been an MWC middle team since joining the conference in 2000. They have finished first only once, second three times and third three times. They finished 4th or worse 14 times in the nine-team conference. It’s hard to be consistently good at softball in Colorado. If they add to the Big 12, they would have many of the same challenges that the state of Iowa currently has at the conference. The Cyclones have finished the last five consecutive seasons, never winning more than four conference games.
The Bearcats have had no qualms about approaching the big 12 to want to join. Many people believe that he has the support of the President of Oklahoma, David Boren. The downside from a softball perspective is that they currently don’t offer the sport. Could they in the future? Maybe. Currently, the Big 12 only have 7 of 10 teams that play softball. TCU, West Virginia and Kansas State also don’t play softball.
Regardless of who the Big 12 adds, there will be an impact on current softball programs. It remains to be seen the magnitude of the impact based on how many and who adds. So, like all of you, we sit back and wait.