What Time Do The Florida Gators Football Play Today Big 12 Expansion: Impact to Softball Programs

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Big 12 Expansion: Impact to Softball Programs

If you follow college sports, you’ve probably heard that the Big 12 is looking to expand. At first they didn’t want to expand and everyone thought the expansion talk was dead. Then at Big 12 media days, Bob Bowlsby announced that he had been given the go-ahead to begin vetting two or four possible expansion candidates.

We all know that money and football drive the decision to expand a conference. With existing television deals, ESPN and Fox will have to pay roughly $25 million more for each school added to the Big 12. Although this appears to be an issue with the television rights holders.

So will they add two or four teams? Who will be that team? No one knows at this point, but speculation is wild and the list seems to be growing daily.

We know football will be the biggest factor in deciding which teams will be added, but we decided to look at it from a softball perspective and see what each prospect brings to the table in terms of their softball program.

At this point, almost every school not in a power conference is a contender. We limited ourselves to these seven because we see them as the most viable options.

BIU:

BIU is probably the team most often mentioned when talking about the expansion of the Big 12. Currently an independent in football, their other sports are in the West Coast Conference (VCC).

Coach: Gordan Eakin (14 years)

2016 Record: 36-21 (12-3 in VCC)

Conference Championships: 12 – Last in 2016

The Cougars have been dominant over the past 10+ years in whatever conference they’ve been a member of. They have won eight straight conference championships in four different conferences (VCC, Pacific Coast Softball, VAC, MVC). They went to the NCAA Regional Tournament in 11 straight seasons, advancing to the 2010 Super Regional against Arizona. Add to that the fact that BIU has the fourth largest NCAA softball facility on campus and BIU would fit right in with other Big 12 schools.

Houston:

Another team that gets mentioned a lot is Houston. Their location in Texas and the recent success of their football team has helped raise their profile.

Coach: Kristin Vesely (1st season)

2016 Record: 27-29 (9-9 in AAC)

Conference Championship: 0

Although Houston has not won any conference championships, they have been to the NCAA Regionals 7 times. Their last appearance was in 2014. They advanced to the Super Regionals twice, losing to Oklahoma State in 2011. Houston plays its home games at 2,000-seat Cougar Softball Stadium. New coach Kristin Vesely takes over in 2017, but has been a part of the program for several years. Prior to Vesely, the Cougars were coached by Kyla Hollas who went 563-376-1 in 16 seasons. In 2016, Houston played 4 teams from the Big 12 and went 3-4 in those games. With a little time and the financial backing of a Power 5 conference, Houston could become a contender every year in the Big 12.

University of South Florida:

If the Big 12 is going to expand, a lot of people think they want to get into the Florida market and have mentioned USF as one of those options. The Ken Erickson-coached Bulls play in a new stadium and have postseason history.

Coach: Ken Erickson (20 years)

2016 Record: 45-16 (15-3 AAC)

Conference Championship: 5th

Coach Erickson has led USF to the NCAA Regionals 12 times. They have advanced to the Super Regionals twice and have one appearance in the Women’s College World Series in 2012. The Bulls opened USF Softball Stadium in 2011. The history and facilities would compare well to other teams in the Big 12. With their location in Tampa, the Bulls have access to a wealth of talent to continue competing.

University of Central Florida:

UCF is almost always mentioned along with USF, since they are only an hour apart. Adding both schools would give the Big 12 a solid presence in the state of Florida. Not to mention it would make scheduling and travel easier for both schools. UCF is the second largest university in the country with 63,000 students.

Coach: Rene Luers-Gillispie (15th season)

2016 Record: 38-22 (12-4 in AAC)

Conference Championship: 4th

The Knights have been to the NCAA Regionals six times, including in 2015 where they were eliminated by the Florida Gators. In March 2006, they opened the UCF Softball Complex, at the time one of the best facilities in the AAC. The program has come a long way under coach Renee Luers-Gillispie who started the program in 2002. Competing every weekend in the Big 12 could be a challenge for several years for the Knights. With time and dedication to softball, they could develop into a competitive team in the Big 12.

Memphis:

The Tigers have recently begun to gain support as a Big 12 expansion contender, largely due to FedEx offering its support. The company has pledged millions of dollars in sponsorships to the Big 12, but how that will affect the Big 12’s decision remains to be seen. From a softball perspective, the Tigers would struggle to reach the top half of the conference.

Coach: Natalie Poole (6 seasons)

2016 Record: 26-31 (7-11 in AAC)

Conference Championship: 0

The Tigers made one NCAA regional appearance in 2011. They have never won a conference tournament. However, they have only been playing softball since 2006. During that time, they are 258-291 overall. Their current roster is loaded with kids from the Southeast with a few from the West Coast, so the Memphis brand is spreading. The question arises, what is the commitment of the university to sports? Given the big $12, that liability could grow.

State of Colorado:

Colorado State has started to gain momentum as a potential addition to the Big 12 Conference. Some of that has to do with the location and the Denver area that has many Big 12 alumni. The Big 12 lost Colorado to the Pac-12 and could easily be replaced by the Rams and reclaim the Denver television market.

Coach: Jen Fisher (6 seasons)

2016 Record: 22-24 (8-12 in MVC)

Conference Championships: 4 – Last 2004

The Rams have been a middle-of-the-road MVC team since joining the conference in 2000. They have only finished first once, second three times and third three times. They finished 4th or worse 14 times in the nine-team conference. It’s hard to be consistently good in softball in Colorado. If they are added to the Big 12, they would have many of the same challenges that Iowa State currently has in the conference. The Cyclones finished in last place for five straight seasons, never winning more than four conference games.

Cincinnati:

The Bearcats haven’t been shy about reaching out to the Big 12 about wanting to join. Many people believe they have the support of Oklahoma President David Boren. The downside from a softball perspective is that they don’t currently offer the sport. Could they in the future? Maybe. Currently, the Big 12 has only 7 of 10 teams playing softball. TCU, West Virginia and Kansas State also don’t play softball.

Regardless of who the Big 12 adds, it will affect current softball programs. How big of an impact remains to be seen based on how much and who they add. So, like all of you, we sit and wait.

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