The Big 12 presidents and chancellors voted on Friday to accept BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF into the conference.
In a statement, the Big 12 said the four schools were “approved unanimously by the eight continuing members.” Individual boards are set to formally accept later Friday.
The move comes less than two months after Big 12 co-founders Oklahoma and Texas announced they would join the SEC by July 1, 2025, leaving the future of the remaining eight schools in the Big 12 in a precarious position. Big 12 officials moved quickly to make the league whole again, forming a subcommittee that concluded that the most successful football schools in the American Athletic Conference — Cincinnati, Houston and UCF — were the top choices, along with independent BYU. The Big 12 was waiting until this week when those schools formally indicated they wanted to join the conference.
In a statement, BYU announced it will be joining the conference in the 2023-24 season. BYU is a football-independent school, and the Cougars’ other programs will continue to compete in the WCC until then.
AAC bylaws require schools to give a 27-month notice before they leave and pay a $10 million buyout fee. In that scenario, joining by the 2023 season would be a long shot, but some sources have said it is realistic. An earlier exit — with a higher buyout — is always a possibility. As a result, it’s possible the league could temporarily expand to as many as 14 teams if those schools join before Oklahoma and Texas leave. It’s also possible the Big 12 could make a second realignment push in the coming years, according to sources.
OU and Texas issued a joint statement in late July saying they intend to remain in the Big 12 through June 30, 2025, when the current Big 12 media rights deal expires, but it’s possible the schools could attempt to exit sooner. Each university would have to pay a penalty of at least $75 million to $80 million to break that agreement.
With the departures to the Big 12, the depleted AAC is expected to hunt for new members, as it will shrink to eight schools.
The president of one remaining AAC member institution issued a statement to address not being picked to join the Big 12.
“Our understanding is that this latest round of expansion for the Big 12 essentially came down to the size of the institutions and the markets in which they reside,” Memphis president David Rudd said in a statement that also described the athletic program as being “disappointed” and “frustrated” with the Tigers not being included.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco chose to view Friday’s news as a validation of the quality of the conference.
“The irony that three of our schools are being asked to take the place of the two marquee schools which are leaving the Big 12 is not lost on us,” Aresco said. “Our conference was targeted for exceeding expectations in a system that wasn’t designed to accommodate our success.
“All three of these institutions have enjoyed unprecedented success as members of The American, as have our remaining schools.”
Although the conference hasn’t made any statements about which teams it plans to go after, likely targets for the AAC would include top teams from the Mountain West, such as Boise State; Conference USA, such as UAB; or the Sun Belt.
Sun Belt Conference commissioner Keith Gill issued a statement Friday bolstering his league’s position.
“The Sun Belt Conference could not have positioned itself better for this moment as the landscape shifts across conferences,” he said. “We have never been stronger. The Sun Belt is the best non-autonomy FBS conference in the country. We were the only non A5 conference with two teams ranked in both preseason polls. We finished last year with two teams ranked in the final CFP and we’ve led FBS in postseason winning percentage the last five years.
“I spoke to our conference CEOs and ADs earlier today about the current realignment in a few FBS conferences and how it puts us in a more advantageous position for our programs to thrive,” Gill said. “Throughout this process, if we identify a school that adds value to the Sun Belt, we’ll certainly consider them for membership. We feel very good about the quality of our schools, we take pride in who we are, and will continue to build our programs and our great conference.”