Dec 31, 2011; Memphis, TN, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats running back Isaiah Pead (23) rushes for a touchdown during the Liberty Bowl against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The Bearcats defeated the Commodores 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE

Guest Post: Cincinnati Does Belong in the Big 12

Last week I wrote an article explaining why I thought Cincinnati should be left out if the Big 12 decided to expand.  After publishing the article, I had several Cincinnati fans explaining why UC would actually be a good fit for the Big 12.  I allowed Chris Bains of Bearcats Nation (you can follow him here) to write an article giving numerous reasons why Cincy belongs in the Big 12 if the conference does decide to expand.  Here it is:

The Cincinnati Bearcats football program is in it’s infancy. Sure UC has been fielding a football team for just over a century but in terms of playing on the same stage as say a USC or Texas, the Bearcats simply don’t have the history to stack up. But there are a lot of things working for Cincinnati that makes them a valuable prospect to join many conferences looking to add a school to their stock:

1.) The most important factor in the modern environment of conference realignment is the value of a media market. By ‘adding inventory’ with a school that has the possibility of pulling in hundreds of thousands of viewers, conferences can garner massive media contracts from the likes of ESPN, Fox, CBS, NBC, etc. The most recent numbers I could find from August, 2011 tabs Cincinnati as the 35th largest market with just under 900k TV households. This size is one of the reasons why UC was invited into the Big East back in 2004. While no one is going to deny that the Bearcats share their market with Ohio State and Notre Dame to name a few, UC has captured more-and-more of it with the recent renaissance in the football program and 900k households would be valuable to any conference.

2.) This brings me to my next point: On-field success. While this is way down the list of characteristics conferences look for in prospective candidates, Cincinnati can always point to three Big East championships in the past four years, four 10-win seasons in the past five years, and two BCS bowl trips in the past four years. The main problem UC has had since joining the Big East is hanging onto their coaches and shedding its image of being a ‘stepping-stone’ program. But this success in spite of all this change shows the resiliency of the Bearcats football program. Now with a new athletic director that understands the concept of spending money to making money and a head coach who genuinely seems interested in staying at Cincinnati for the long haul, there is now some much-needed stability in UC football. The Bearcat basketball program has experienced dark times recently after a series of self-inflicted ‘Death Penalty’ moves. However Cincinnati basketball has a rich history of success. Most people remember the years under Bob Huggins (now at West Virginia) but UC won National Championships in 1961 and 1962 and has been to NCAA Tournament 25 times. Current head coach Mick Cronin has done a remarkable job turning rebuilding the program in one of the toughest, deepest conferences in college basketball. Annual 29-30 win seasons are unrealistic but he has restored the program to respectability.

3.) Despite all of this success, most people will point to the size of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium as a primary downside to inviting UC into a conference. 35,000 is definitely not ideal and is more the size of a lower-tier C-USA program than a BCS program but UC has options. The most recent numbers from the Cincinnati athletic department put the price tag of adding 10,000 seats to Nippert complete with suites, club boxes, and luxury suites at right around $100 million. That’s the cost of the entire Varsity Village project that helped bring Cincinnati into the Big East in the first place and is a figure that makes expansion completely unrealistic. But the 65,000-seat Paul Brown Stadium is right down the road from Clifton. In many cases it has clear advantages over Nippert; more seats, available luxury seats/suites/boxes, and easier access for attendees in terms of nearby highways and parking. In 2011, UC experimented with the idea of playing conference games at PBS averaging 44,500 against Louisville and West Virginia. While those two schools have a history of traveling well to Cincinnati, over 90% of the people in attendance were Bearcat fans. Even though there were reports that Cincinnati lost $1.4 million in advertisement money, the University refuted those claims saying that the money was redistributed for use in games later in the season. Finally, UC played a game against Oklahoma at PBS in 2010 and drew 58,000. This was a special occasion and well-advertised but it’s fair to say that Cincinnati would draw better on a regular basis against teams in the Big XII, Big Ten, or SEC than the likes of UConn, Pitt, and Syracuse.

4.) Speaking of fan attendance and loyalty, the Cincinnati student section has sold out their season ticket allotment three years in a row. Like I mentioned, UC is an infant in the era of modern football but you can always count on the UC students to do their part to pack the stands, get loud, and be an outright nuisance to opposing teams. The University of Cincinnati has one of the largest enrollments in the country with just over 41,000 bright minds dotting the campus. As UC sends ten thousand or so each year out into the world, they will reinvest in the program when they enter the workforce.

5.) From an academic perspective, the University of Cincinnati is on the rise. US News recently elevated UC to a Tier One institution as #143 nationally. The university hangs its hat on its criminal justice, medical, engineering, and arts and architectural programs but Cincinnati has developed into one of the best research schools in the country. UC is a ‘Research 1′ university and is 22nd nationally with over $500 million of research funding to work with each year. Clearly the school is trying to attain the prestigious AAU status that some conferences like the Big Ten (Nebraska aside) and ACC seem to covet. UC has yet to receive an invitation despite ‘out funding’ some current AAU members.

Overall the University of Cincinnati is a prized addition to any conference. But I’m not going to sit here and dismiss some of UC’s warts. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies with the Bearcats as I’ll fully admit that I wish the job of head football coach wasn’t a jumping off point for ambitions men to take gigs elsewhere with programs in more established conferences. UC certainly doesn’t help itself by historically paying its coaches in the bottom half of the Big East and the Bearcats aren’t exactly the most storied football program. But Cincinnati is located in the 35th largest media market in the US, boasts 3 Big East Championships in just 7 years of play, a student body 41,000-strong, and a 65,000-seat stadium in which to play games against bigger opponents. There’s a lot to like about UC.

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