The Expansion Project – Act II, Pt 3
Location Location Location
I’m not sure if any concept facing conference expansion is avoided to make a case more than the location of a prospective university. People as diverse as fan-board posters to highly acclaimed sports reporters will toss out an “ideal” candidate for any conference’s expansion without seeming to have even an elementary grasp of geography.
This is especially true when people discuss possible Big 12 expansion due to what I imagine is one primary reason: They have absolutely no concept where West Virginia is.
When the Mountaineers were invited into the Big 12 to replace Missouri, it set the direction of the Big 12 with a giant compass needle pointing east. And this makes a lot of sense. Nearly sixty percent of the U.S. population lives east of the Mississippi river. And, of the states west of the Mississippi, the Big 12 already has a firm grasp on 30-40% of that population.
Therefore if the Big 12 looks west it is targeting close to 80,000,000 people whereas if it looks east it is targeting nearly 180,000,000 people. That’s why it makes sense for the Big Ten to partner with the Pac 12, to get some western eyeballs since they have eastern and why it makes sense for the Big 12 to partner with the SEC, to get some eastern eyeballs, since they have western.
West Virginia was a flag planted to dictate the focus of the Big 12. It wasn’t on Texas. It wasn’t on the West Coast. It is on the land east of the Mississippi.
However, this isn’t just about television eyeballs, as pointed out in the original article on location athletic budgets are expanding quickly due to increases in travel brought about by expansion. Spots 11 and 12 in the Big 12 will want to fit within the current map of the Big 12 so that travel is eased for the member schools for all sports, not increased. It doesn’t do you any good to make more money if you have to spend it all just to generate the inventory you created.
As we began to discuss location there were three factors that could be quantified to rank potential candidates:
- Does it provide a new region?
- What is its distance from the geographic center of the Big 12?
- And what is its distance from West Virginia?
I won’t be discussing “new region” in too much depth today because it is a simple yes or no check box. If a schools is outside the Big 12’s current footprint it will get a bonus toward the final tally, if not, it won’t.
Trying to find the sweet spot for expansion for the Big 12 in regards to the location of the candidate schools you have two focal points to consider, which complicates things somewhat.
To tackle this I broke down 2,000 miles into five concentric circles with 400 mile differences in circumference. The closest tier received 75 points and the second tier received 25 points. These are schools within 800 miles of the center point. The third tier, outside of 800 miles, received no points, whereas the fourth tier received a score of negative 25 and the fifth was negative 75. Anything outside 2,000 miles received a flat score of negative 125.
With two focal points this gives a maximum score of 150 and a minimum score of -250. The reason I did this in tiers instead of ranking each university and scoring them individually like was done in Brand and Culture, is because there really isn’t much difference between two schools separated by 50 miles, no sense giving a bonus to one. What we’re looking for isn’t nailing this down to within the mile, but finding the best grouping of universities between these two points.
Unlike the past, I think it makes some sense to start this conversation by looking at how the Big 12 stacks up against itself, then move out to candidate schools.
The Geographic Center of the Big 12
In case you didn’t know, the current geographic center of the Big 12 has changed over the past few years as West Virginia pulled it out of Oklahoma and settled it somewhere within the Ozarks.
This is the point where if you could balance the Big 12 on a pin and provides us a marker to begin drawing our concentric circles. What each tier shows us is a rough estimate of how far each of the teams within the Big 12 would need to travel to reach the candidate.
Concentrating it on one point also allows us to simply our math instead of trying to measure a candidate from each current member school in the Big 12. Basically, this point serves as the average travel spot for everyone.
If you look at the current Big 12, not every member is close to this point. Matter a fact, TCU and Iowa State both reside around 400 miles away from it. While it makes sense that West Virginia would be far away, seeing that Texas is 626 miles really highlights how close many of the old Big Eight schools were to each other.
It also shows why it makes a lot of sense for the Big 12 to hold its Basketball Tournament in Kansas City. Texas doesn’t just have the highest population in the Big 12, by far, it also has vast amounts of land. So much land, in fact, that if you populated Texas with the same density of Manhattan Island in New York City (which isn’t even that dense compared to some mega cities), you could fit the entire population of Earth within the borders of Texas.
All of this land makes us believe everyone is closer to each other, when in fact there is quite a bit of distance between the schools in the southern Big 12. To throw another factoid out there to help us put it in perspective, Iowa State is closer to the Minneapolis/St. Paul (212 miles) and Kansas City (231 miles) airports than Texas Tech is to DFW (337 miles). That distance from Texas Tech to Dallas/Fort worth International Airport is nearly the same amount as from Ames to O’Hare in Chicago (344 miles). There are a lot more people living within 350 miles of Ames than there are 350 miles of Lubbock.
That being said, there have to be other schools near the center of the Big 12 or this expansion conversation wouldn’t be worth having. Within the entire FBS, here are the top 20 schools ranked in terms of miles around the geographic center of the Big 12.
It probably doesn’t come as much surprise that Missouri is near the top of the list, especially considering they used to be a member and the Ozarks are, you know, in Missouri. However, the closest school is actually the University of Arkansas, which resides in Fayetteville in the far Northwest corner of the state, right off the Missouri/Oklahoma border. It could join the Big 12 and most schools would see their annual travel decrease.
Again, like our conversation in Brand and Culture, this isn’t about who would accept an invitation and who would not. I’m not interested in anecdotal arguments about someone “never” leaving their current situation, that’s not what this project is about.
It is about looking at what makes most sense from a geographic stand point and there are twenty schools on this list within six conferences in the FBS and all of them are closer to the center of the Big 12 than Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia. If you were a fan of gambling, no one would second guess your decision to bet on this batch of teams having a leg up in the Big 12 Expansion sweepstakes.
Centered around Morgantown, West Virginia
However, we have two focal points, not just one. The eastern edge of the Big 12 moved remarkably further east in 2011, from Columbia, Missouri to Morganton, West Virginia. This means that there is an entire second group of schools who reside close to West Virginia University that we need to consider.
Let’s not beat around the bush, West Virginia is a satellite currently. The closest Big 12 School to Morgantown is Iowa State and it is further away from West Virginia than West Virginia is to the geographic center of the Big 12. Six Big 12 schools are over 1,000 miles away. That basically means the Mountaineers are not bussing any team to any conference event.
Unlike Texas or the schools in the West, however, the Eastern coast and the Ohio River Valley is far more densely populated, providing a lot of options for candidate schools to help reduce travel for West Virginia.
The University of Pittsburgh is obviously the closest FBS School to Morgantown since both universities reside within the Pittsburgh Designated Market Area (DMA). West Virginia University is closer to Pittsburgh than Baylor is to Dallas (112 miles) or Mizzou was to either Kansas City or St. Louis (125 miles for each). It is also about the same distance to Washington DC (202 miles) as the University of Oklahoma (192 miles) and the University of Texas (197 miles) are to the Cotton Bowl.
For anyone who thinks that the Mountaineers are not near civilization it is time to brush up on your geography, because you are just wrong.
The rest of the Top 20 include a lot of MAC, Big Ten and ACC teams, but teams east of Morgantown have less value to the Big 12 since they are even further from the Big 12’s geographic center.
Speaking of the Big 12’s center again, what I find amazing, when looking at population density, is that all of the schools on the Top 20 in distance to Morgantown are closer than six schools within the Big 12 are to their own conference center.
Bridging the gap between the Appalachians and the Ozarks shouldn’t be too difficult.
Combining the Data
A school only has value, in this category, if it does bridge that gap. In short, is it close to both the geographic center of the Big 12 and the Pittsburgh DMA? This is where the point system comes into play.
Schools gain points for how close they are to either focal point. Close to both and the numbers are higher. Further from both and they are much lower. Additionally, if the school is in a new market it receives a bonus to its score, which could either propel it over the top or bring it up into consideration if it is further away. Likewise, schools who reside in markets the Big 12 is already present receive a negative modifier.
Due to how there are two focal points, you have three groups of schools that tend to appear: those close to the Big 12, those close to West Virginia, and those in the middle. If you get too far east of West Virginia the points drop quickly. Likewise, the further west you are of the Ozarks the faster scores float into the negatives.
When combining the scores some schools, notably the ones between the two points, stand out. Instead of ranking each school individually, I broke them out into tiers of like schools.
NOTE: For these charts I removed the MAC and Sun Belt schools since they tend to be densely populated in states between our two points, but haven’t scored well in other areas. This way I could save space on the chart.
The first chart shows the schools who scored the best when adding up the points from both focal points and taking any market modifiers into account. It becomes apparent just how big the states start becoming once you get past the Ohio River Valley, because the mileage between our two points starts to really add up.
Within our first tier we have schools you may expect. Arkansas, who is basically already within the Big 12’s footprint, scores well, but Memphis, Cincinnati, Kentucky, and Louisville do too because they are basically on a line between the Ozarks and Morgantown. Missouri and Ohio State also do well, like Arkansas, because they are located very near one of the focal points. Matter a fact, Columbus is the same distance away from Morgantown as is Washington DC.
As you saw from the previous chart, there are a lot of universities around West Virginia, which skews the data a bit east. And, as also mentioned previously, that is the direction the Big 12 now faces. Do to that, I think it definitely gives an advantage to schools like Memphis and Cincinnati. Not that they are the hands down favorites in expansion, we have other categories to consider than just location, but their place in the world may fit better with the Big 12 than any other Power Five conference.
On the other end of the spectrum you’ve probably noticed several schools that are talked about a lot when it comes to expansion excluded from that list. Florida State and Clemson were the talk of the town a summer or two ago, but they didn’t make the top two tiers.
Well, keep in mind, this is not an analysis of the quality of each school, only where they reside geographically within the current Big 12. Clemson is actually in the third tier, just missing the chart, with 50 points. Being just under 800 miles away from the Big 12 gives it a few points, but it is about 300 miles closer to Morgantown. Florida State, on the other hand is in one of those ideal situations to just miss the tier cut offs. It creates a sort of Big 12 Triangle, making it around 800 or so miles from the Ozarks, to Tallahassee, to Morgantown, and back to the Ozarks. Not terribly far away, but not amazingly convenient.
Something to keep in mind, however, is that Florida State is the closest of the Florida schools. Florida, while still over 800 miles to Morgantown is nearly 1,000 miles to the center of the Big 12. UCF, another school thrown around often in expansion talk, is over 1,100 miles away from the Big 12 and 900 away from Morgantown. And don’t even get me started on Miami, who has more combined miles to the focal points than Boston College. It is easy to forget that it is 447 miles from the northern border of Florida to the southern coast.
However, these distances pale in comparison to the furthest schools on our list. The Distance from The Big 12 center to New York City is just over 1,200 miles. However the distance to Los Angeles is 1,600 miles. Considering West Virginia is only 378 miles to New York City (or about the distance from Lubbock to Dallas) and 2,445 miles from Los Angeles, the travel required to get to a Pac 12 school is phenomenal. Due to that, they own the worst scores on the list.
Washington won the award for “longest haul” clocking in at over 2,000 miles away from the Big 12 and 2,600 miles away from West Virginia. At this point I have a hard time giving any hope to the people who dream of a Pac 16 with Big 12 schools. The distances are so drastically further away from any other conference that it barely makes logistical sense. The schools could join the ACC and have closer travel than the Pac 12.
And, yes, those numbers in the chart are negative and don’t tell a very good story for typical expansion story candidates, BYU and Boise State. There are 102 FBS schools closer to the center of the Big 12 than BYU. Boise State is even further away and that is not even considering the distance from West Virginia.
Location is just one piece of the puzzle, but when you actually look at the geography of the United States, where you reside in reference in relation to the current membership of the Big 12 will likely play a very large role in if you’re targeted for expansion or not.
Some schools fit perfectly, whether it ends up being crown jewels like Kentucky or Arkansas or up and comers like Memphis or Cincinnati.
Some schools fit horribly into the future plans of the Big 12. BYU, for instance, is terribly far away from the Big 12’s focus, even if you just consider them a football only school. Only Texas Tech is closer to BYU than WVU. Every other Big 12 school is either split evenly or closer to Morgantown. It makes absolutely no sense to cover that much distance for a handful of games, especially when there are not only so many schools between the Big 12 and West Virginia, but also so many people between them as well.
100,000,000 people is a pretty powerful reason to leave Lubbock as the Western border of the Big 12. If the Big 12 goes to twelve again, it will be with schools who reside within the dark red area of the U.S.
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