BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF accepted invitations Friday to join the Big 12 after the conference voted to expand its league membership for the first time since 2012. As expected, the Big 12 rubber stamped the membership invitations, extending them to the four schools who quickly accepted the offers.
Extending an invitation required a supermajority of the remaining eight Big 12 athletic directors. However, the Big 12 notes that the vote to add these new members was unanimous.
BYU and Houston accepted their invitations within hours of receiving them, and by the end of the day all four universities announced they will join the Big 12.
BYU became the first school to accept its invitation, announcing just 12 minutes after the Big 12 publicly announced the invitations.
"College athletics is changing," BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said. "We've seen a rapid increase in the rate in which change is happening. We see it with conference realignment, we've seen it with the transfer portal, governance, and we've certainly seen it with NIL. We're ready at BYU. Today's news about joining the Big 12 is huge, but it's not a resting point for us. This is just a new beginning with opportunities for bigger and better things to keep coming for BYU Athletics."
Houston followed as the second school to officially announce its entrance to the Big 12. The Cougars have been fighting for an invitation almost since the moment they were left out of the Big 12 when it formed in 1996.
"Joining the Big 12 Conference is a historic step in our institutional journey and signifies the tremendous growth and success attained academically and athletically over the last decade," Houston president Renu Khator said. "Our expectations for our University remain high, our aspirations continue to be bold, and we embrace this new opportunity to compete at the highest levels in all we do."
Cincinnati announced its acceptance of a Big 12 membership in an open letter from athletic director John Cunningham on Friday afternoon.
"The impact of the move to the Big 12 Conference will extend beyond the walls of the Lindner Center and into the classrooms and research laboratories on campus, aligning with our university's drive for excellence in all that we do," Cunningham wrote. "While there are financial benefits to our conference move, including a significantly enhanced position to secure a long-term media-rights agreement consistent with our investment in athletics, just as important is the access the Big 12 Conference will provide to our teams. Our goal is to win national championships, and by joining the Big 12, all of our teams will have more avenues to do so. We also will witness a higher level of recruiting, the enhancement of our national brand, and a heightened awareness of our institution across the world."
This round of Big 12 expansion comes on the heels of Texas and Oklahoma leaving the conference to join the SEC as member institutions. The Longhorns and Sooners will either have to wait until the Big 12's grant of rights expires after the 2024-25 school year or pay fines that could reach $80 million.
Cincinnati, Houston and UCF will be leaving the American Athletic Conference and required to pay a $10 million exit fee. AAC rules state that 27 months advance notice are required for exiting the conference. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby noted that the three AAC schools will enter "no later" than July 2024. However, the programs will likely pay a slightly higher exit fee to get out in advance of the 2023 season. UConn, for example, paid $17 million to get out of its AAC contract early.
BYU, as a football independent, could move to the Big 12 whenever it chooses; however, the Cougars said they will wait until 2023 and join with the rest of their sports. As independents, BYU has a number of existing football scheduling contracts on the books to resolve since the program schedules 12 games every year. BYU will also have to pay a buyout to get out of the West Coast Conference for all non-football sports.
Should all four teams join the Big 12 in 2023, that group would overlap with Oklahoma and Texas for their final two years in the league. That could give the Big 12, temporarily, a 14-team league unless the Longhorns and Sooners are either offered a way out early or buy their way out of their contract.
Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt recently claimed this may only be the first round of realignment as part of a larger expansion of the Big 12.