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Memphis among those making pitching to join Big 12’s expansion

Associated Press

The good news for the Big 12 Conference is that there is no shortage of suitors.

Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has been asked to start evaluating expansion candidates and the league office should already have a stack of files from schools eager for a spot in the Power Five league. The announcement on Tuesday did not say the 10-member Big 12 is committed to expansion, but it is obvious where this is headed.

Bowlsby and Oklahoma President David Boren, the chairman of the conference’s board of directors, noted plenty of schools have reached out to the Big 12, especially within the last year.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press through open records requests show schools such as Connecticut, Cincinnati, UCF, Memphis, Colorado State and Houston have been touting themselves to Big 12 officials for months:

— A letter sent from Central Florida’s President John Hitt to Texas President Gregory Fenves highlights a report that projects Orlando’s population growth over the next 10 years to be six times that of Cincinnati’s and 500 times that of Hartford, Connecticut.

— A UConn student sent a report prepared by the school’s alumni to West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons that points out the Storrs-based school provides access to TV markets (including New York and Boston) with potential to reach 11.7 million homes while the combined markets reached by Cincinnati, UCF, South Florida and Houston is 12.3 million homes.

‘Very impressive’
— Memphis President M. David Rudd touted the school’s effort to improve its status as a research institution and the backing of FedEx CEO and Memphis alum Fred Smith in a letter to Texas Tech interim president John Opperman. West Virginia President Gordon Gee, a member of the Big 12’s composition committee, received the same information from Memphis and responded with a thank you letter.

“Very, very impressive,” Gee wrote back to Rudd.

— Colorado State President Tony Frank mentioned getting the Big 12 back into the Denver market and that the football stadium expansion was “on time and on budget” in a separate email to Gee.
“Indeed, Colorado State is making a statement and moving swiftly into the forefront of universities, not only regionally but nationally,” Gee responded in a letter to Frank dated July 21, 2015.

— Houston President Renu Khator’s email to Gee had the subject line “TV ratings” and had a color-coded chart attached showing the 20 highest-rated regular season games last season in Houston area. The Cougars had as many in the top 10 as the entire Big 12. The rest were Southeastern Conference games.

It’s easy to understand schools have not been shy about courting the Big 12. The league recently distributed $30 million payouts to its members for the most recently concluded school year. Most of that money comes from a 13-year television deal with ESPN and Fox that runs through 2024-25 and is worth $2.6 billion or more than $20 million per school per year.