High School Football

Big 12 extends membership invitations to BYU, Cincinnati, Houston & UCF

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Less than two months after Oklahoma and Texas announced plans to leave for the Southeastern Conference, the Big 12 Conference has made their move. League presidents extended membership invitations Friday morning to admit BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF into the Big 12.

The exit timelines for Oklahoma and Texas remain uncertain, although they remain tied to media rights contracts until 2025. If the remaining eight Big 12 schools stay, the league will grow from ten to twelve teams.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Friday afternoon that BYU will begin competition in 2023. The Cougars are a football independent and compete in the West Coast Conference in all other sports. Cincinnati, Houston and UCF will begin Big 12 competition no later than July 1, 2024. All three of those schools are currently members of the American Athletic Conference.

The Big 12 previously considered these schools in 2016 for possible expansion.

“The last time it was a voyage of exploration,” Bowlsby said. “We were unsure as to whether or not expansion made perfect sense for us. In the end, the board made the decision that staying at ten was the right decision at that time.

“With Texas and OU moving to the SEC, it caused a renewed consideration of the options that are available. I think the more our group became committed to one another, and moving forward with the group of eight, I think the more they began to believe that adding additional members… made good sense.”

When Oklahoma and Texas eventually depart for the SEC, the Big 12 will stand at twelve members. Bowlsby says further expansion remains a possibility.

“I think we are always going to be open to opportunities as they present themselves. We are living in a very fast-changing athletic environment. We will be at fourteen for a while. We’ll drop back to twelve. As there are targets of opportunity or situations that dictate that we change composition, we’ll be prepared to do those things.”

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe says the Big 12 feature two football divisions.


BYU LB Ben Bywater (33) celebrates with BYU LB Drew Jensen (46) (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

Brigham Young University is one of seven remaining FBS independent schools. The Cougars most recently competed in the Mountain West Conference from 1999-2011. Head coach Kalani Sitake has posted a 39-26 record with the Cougars and he is now in his sixth season guiding the program. BYU defeated Arizona, 24-16 in last week’s season opener.

The Cougars faced WVU in Sitake’s first season. The Mountaineers edged the Cougars 35-32 at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. BYU won the national championship in 1984. Quarterback Zach Wilson was selected second overall in the 2021 NFL Draft by the New York Jets.

BYU is located in Provo, Utah, which is 4,649 feet above sea level.



Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell (Photo by The Enquirer)

West Virginia will soon reunite with their former Big East Conference rivals from Cincinnati. The Bearcats are ranked seventh in this week’s AP poll. Under head coach Luke Fickell, UC has posted a 35-14 record in the last four seasons. The Bearcats went 9-1 last year, winning the American Athletic Conference. Their lone loss came against No. 5 Georgia in the Peach Bowl.

The Bearcats set a new record for season ticket sales in 2021, eclipsing the 22,000 mark. WVU owns a 16-3-1 record all-time against Cincinnati. South Charleston High School graduate and defensive lineman Zeiqui Lawton is a freshman on the UC roster.


Houston Cougars head coach Dana Holgorsen (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

The University of Houston has entered their third season under former WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. He owns a 7-13 record leading the Cougars. Houston fell to future Big 12 foe Texas Tech, 38-21 in last week’s season opener.

Former WVU assistant coaches Doug Belk, Shannon Dawson, Marquel Blackwell and Mark Scott are on staff with the Cougars. Former WVU wideout Daikiel Shorts is their receivers coach and safety Jovanni Stewart is on their roster.

Like UCF and Cincinnati, the Cougars currently compete in the American Athletic Conference. They most recently won the league title with a 13-1 overall record in 2015 under former Texas head coach Tom Herman.



UCF Knights wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala (0) is lifted into the air by teammates (Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports)

The University of Central Florida is the youngest of the four new members of the Big 12. The Knights launched their program in 1979. UCF’s national profile began to accelerate following the completion of their on-campus stadium in 2007. The stadium is now dubbed, ‘The Bounce House’. The Knights posted an undefeated season under head coach Scott Frost in 2017 but were excluded from the College Football Playoff. UCF claimed a ‘national championship’ that season after defeating Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

UCF has been a member of the American Athletic Conference since 2013. The Knights previously competed in Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference.

Gus Malzahn is in his first season as UCF’s head coach. The Knights rallied from a late deficit to defeat Boise State, 36-31 in last week’s season opener.

The Knights last faced WVU in a home-and-home series in 2003 and 2004, with the Mountaineers sweeping both games.

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