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Big 12 Expansion: Impact to Softball Programs
If you follow college sports you have probably heard that the Big 12 is looking into expansion. At first they weren’t going to expand and everyone thought the expansion talk was dead. Then at the Big 12 media days Bob Bowlsby announced that he had been given approval to begin vetting two or four possible expansion candidates.
We all know that money and football are driving the decision for the conference to expand. With the current television contracts in place ESPN and Fox will have to pay approximately $25 million more for each school the Big 12 adds. Although this seems to be an issue with the television rights holders.
So will they add two or four teams? Who will those teams be? At this point no one knows, but the speculations is running wild and the list seems to grow everyday.
We know that football is going to big the biggest factor in deciding which teams get added, but we decided to look at it from softball’s perspective and see what each potential candidate brings to the table in terms of their softball program.
At this point almost every school that is not in a power 5 conference is a candidate. We limited to these seven as we see them as the most viable options.
BYU is probably the team mentioned the most often when talking about Big 12 expansion. Currently an independent in football their other sports are in the West Coast Conference (WCC).
Coach: Gordan Eakin (14 years)
2016 Record: 36-21 (12-3 in WCC)
Conference Championships: 12 – Last one in 2016
The Cougars have been dominant over the last 10+ years in whichever conference they have been a member. They have won eight straight conference championships across four different conferences (WCC, Pacific Coast Softball, WAC, MWC). They have gone to the NCAA Regionals for 11 straight seasons, advancing to the Super Regional in 2010 versus Arizona. Add in the fact that BYU has the fourth largest on-campus NCAA softball facility and BYU would fit right in with the other Big 12 schools.
Another team that gets mentioned often is Houston. Their location in Texas and the recent success of their football team has helped increase their profile.
Coach: Kristin Vesely (1st season)
2016 Record: 27-29 (9-9 in the AAC)
Conference Championships: 0
Although Houston has not won any conference championships they have been to the NCAA Regionals 7 times. With their last appearance in 2014. Twice they have advanced to the Super Regionals, losing to Oklahoma State in 2011. Houston plays their home games in 2,000 seat Cougar Softball Stadium. New coach Kristin Vesely takes over in 2017, but has been a part of the program for several years. Prior to Vesely the Cougars were coached by Kyla Holas who went 563-376-1 in 16 seasons. In 2016, Houston played 4 teams from the Big 12 and went 3-4 in those games. Given a little time and financial backing of a power 5 conference, Houston could build into an every year contender in the Big 12.
University of South Florida:
If the Big 12 is going to expand a lot of people think they want to get into the Florida market and have mentioned USF as one of those options. The Bulls, coached by Ken Erickson, play in a new stadium and have postseason history.
Coach: Ken Erickson (20 years)
2016 Record: 45-16 (15-3 AAC)
Conference Championships: 5
Coach Erickson has taken USF to the NCAA Regionals 12 times. Twice they have advanced to the Super Regionals and they have one Women’s College World Series appearance in 2012. In 2011 the Bulls opened USF Softball Stadium. The history and the facilities would compare well with the other Big 12 teams. With its location in Tampa the Bulls have access to plenty of talent to continue to compete.
University of Central Florida:
UCF is almost always mentioned along with USF, since they are only about one hour apart. Adding both schools would give the Big 12 a solid presence in the state of Florida. Not too mention it would make scheduling and traveling a little easier for both schools. UCF is the nation’s second largest university at 63,000 students.
Coach: Renee Luers-Gillispie (15th season)
2016 Record: 38-22 (12-4 in the 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 of 2006 they opened UCF Softball Complex, at the time, one of the top facilities in the AAC. The program has come a long ways under coach Renee Luers-Gillispie who started the program in 2002. Competing every weekend in the Big 12 might be a challenge for a few years for the Knights. Over time and with a commitment to softball they could develop into a competitive team in the Big 12.
The Tigers have recently started to gain support as a candidate for Big 12 expansion mostly due to Fedex offering its 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 struggle to reach the upper half of the conference.
Coach: Natalie Poole (6 seasons)
2016 Record: 26-31 (7-11 in AAC)
Conference Championships: 0
The Tigers have one 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 overall. Their current roster is littered with kids from around the southeast with a few from the west coast so the Memphis brand is spreading. The question becomes what is the university’s commitment to the sport? Given Big 12 dollars that commitment could grow.
Colorado State has started to pick up some momentum as a potential addition to the Big 12 conference. Some of that has to do with location and the Denver area having a lot of Big 12 alumni. The Big 12 lost Colorado to the Pac-12 and could easily replace them with the Rams and gain the Denver television market back.
Coach: Jen Fisher (6 seasons)
2016 Record: 22-24 (8-12 in MWC)
Conference Championships: 4 – Last one in 2004
The Rams have been a middle-of-the-road MWC team since joining the conference in 2000. They have finished 1st just once, 2nd three times, and 3rd three times. They have finished 4th or worse 14 times in the nine team conference. It’s tough to be consistently good at softball in Colorado. If added to the Big 12 they would have a lot of the same challenges that Iowa State currently has in the conference. The Cyclones have finished last for five straight season, never winning more than four conference games.
The Bearcats have not been shy about reaching out to the Big 12 about wanting to join. Many people believe they have the support of Oklahoma President David Boren. The downside from a softball perspective is they do not currently offer the sport. Could they in the future? Maybe. Currently the Big 12 only has 7 of 10 teams that play softball. TCU, West Virginia, and Kansas State do not play softball either.
Regardless of who the Big 12 adds there will be an impact to the current softball programs. How big of impact remains to be seen based on how many and who they add. So like all of you, we sit back and wait.
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