We like to pretend that there's something pure in the amateurism, but college sports is all about the almighty dollar.
After two years of financially driven re-alignment, college football seems headed towards an era of four mega-conferences. Three (the Big 10, Pac-10 and SEC) seem settled, with the Big 12 increasingly looking like it will survive to become the fourth member.
However, the conference still needs two more schools to have a conference championship game again. With the addition of TCU and West Virginia, and the likely addition of at least two ACC schools, the Big 12 is going to look very strange on the map, but only aesthetically.
Economically, it makes a whole lot of sense, as the decision on who to add will be completely market-driven.
The name of the game in this current era of college football is television marketability. TV markets, networks, and advertisement revenue are the propellants of the college football money train. The better broadcasting product your conference produces, the more money a network is going to pay you for those broadcasting rights.
But the quality of the product isn't the only component. The other side of the golden coin is viewership. The more people watching your product, the more money you make through advertising revenue.
When Colorado and Texas A&M left the Big 12, the conference said goodbye to two very lucrative markets. Colorado has a population of 5 million, and it increased 16.9% over the last decade, good for ninth fastest nationally. The national growth average was 9.7% last decade.
The SEC's addition of Texas A&M dealt a huge blow to the Big 12's revenue stream, and, more importantly, broke up the Big 12's Texas monopoly. It gave the SEC a foothold in Texas, and added the nation's fifth largest market, Houston.
The Big 12 responded with the addition of TCU and West Virginia. The TCU addition makes the Big 12 the only major conference with a program in America's fourth largest market, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (Pop. 6.5 million). And although West Virginia isn't a powerhouse market, their addition gives the Big 12 a foothold out East, facilitating expansion in the Southeast region and East Coast.
The Big 12's current expansion targets fall right in line with this market-driven strategy:
Georgia Tech is a very likely addition that would tap into America's seventh fastest growing state and the nation's ninth largest market, Atlanta metro (Pop. 5.3 million).
Clemson is another strong candidate as South Carolina is the nation's tenth fastest growing state (Pop. 4.6 million; 15.3% increase).
The state of Florida is home to two very strong ACC candidates, Florida State and Miami. An addition of either school (or both) would give the Big 12 a foothold in America's fourth largest, and eighth fastest growing state (Pop. 18.8 million; 17.6% increase). The Miami metro area is the eighth largest market in America with a population of 5.6 million.
There are also two independent schools that would bring in some serious viewership numbers, BYU and Notre Dame.
In addition to a very strong national following, Utah has a state population of 2.7 million and increased 23.8% over the last decade, making them the third-fastest growing state in America. Although not as large as some other market options, the growth rate, and stable national fan base, make BYU attractive.
Notre Dame would also be a strong addition. South Bend, Indiana may not come to mind when you think of booming markets, but Notre Dame might very well have the strongest national following in college football. It may not be a concentrated market, but such a high national demand will still generate massive ratings. 77.7 million Catholic Americans is a nice market to tap. (Okay, so not every Catholic is an Irish fan, but you get the idea)
Louisville is another rumored addition, but I just don't see this one happening. The state of Kentucky and the city of Louisville are not major markets. And the SEC already has the state's major following, the University of Kentucky.
The Big 12 already has a powerful base in Texas, the second largest state and fifth fastest growing (Pop. 25 million; 20.6% increase). That base, coupled with the East Coast's fastest growing markets, would make the Big 12 a highly desirable conference to broadcast based on the sheer number of viewers their broadcasts will reach. Expect to see a landmark contract between the Big 12 and a major network once the dust settles.