Now that the Olympics are over and September has arrived much of the sports conversation will once again revolve around the happenings of college sports. One of the main topics of speculation will be on Big 12 conference expansion.
For those of us who follow college athletics closely, it is not a new topic. Big 12 expansion has been floating out there for a while. The question remains, will the Big 12 expand by two teams, four teams, or keep the membership at 10? It is expected that the Big 12 will arrive at a decision sometime in the fall of 2016. If new membership is added, those chosen will be among college athletics’ most powerful. A fully vested member of the Power 5.
The thing I love most about college basketball is the thing that I hate most about college football. I absolutely love the fact that there is an avenue for a Mid-Major basketball team to qualify for the national tournament and have the chance to play for the national championship. An opportunity to play on the same court with much of the same media exposure as Power 5 schools, and if they can win just one game, the media exposure soars. The kind of exposure that cannot be bought or generated by an advertising campaign, and every year one of the Mid-Majors wins. It is called March Madness for a reason.
On the other side of the ball is football and its very rigid playoff/bowl system, where there is essentially no chance for a Mid-Major to ever play for a national championship. Although a couple of the mid-majors may have just enough horse power to play against and possibly, on the right day, win against one of the Power 5, the most a Mid-Major football program can hope for is to win the conference championship and play in one of the three to five conference contracted/affiliated bowls. Success for those outside the Power 5 has a well-defined ceiling.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of athletics for any school are the numerous opportunities to connect with alumni and supporters and then to generate exposure that reflects all that a school has to offer. The public relations “reach” of athletics is potentially quite far. I think that it is widely accepted that the kind of consolidation of power and wealth that we see among the Power 5 is driven by football and TV markets, and that within itself establishes athletics as one of the major advertising and public relations efforts of any university. With that in mind, how do the Mid-Majors generate exposure for their schools and programs? What is the best way for the Mid-Majors to use athletics?
Power 5 membership is based upon football and is feudal in nature with little ability for upward mobility, making football a difficult world for the Mid-Majors. Football is an important piece of the puzzle for all schools. It makes up over one third of the total number of student athletes. Combine that with band and athletic training, it becomes easier to understand how far football ripples across a campus. However, with its well defined access to the national tournament, men’s basketball might be a better marketing tool than football in gaining national exposure for the Mid-Majors. A basketball team can work its way to the top and have a chance at having some sustainable national success, as has been demonstrated by more than one program.
For schools outside the Power 5 looking for national exposure, the best possible situation would primarily be for the men’s basketball team have routine presence in the national tournament and secondarily for the football team to be bowl eligible.
By Chris Coker
Chris Coker is the Director of Continuing Education at the United States Sports Academy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.