The University of Cincinnati is officially headed to the Big 12 Conference.
The university announced Friday that it has accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 by no later than July 1, 2024.
“With 25 years of history, 69 team national champions and 702 individual national champions to its name, the Big 12 ranks among the nation’s premiere athletic conferences,” UC President Neville G. Pinto said. “UC’s membership in this Power 5 conference will position us for even greater success both on and off the field.”
Two days after University of Cincinnati officials confirmed the school had officially submitted its application to join the Big 12, the conference's board of directors voted to extend a membership invitation to Cincinnati.
UC’s board of trustees on Friday unanimously granted Pinto the authority to remove the university from the American Athletic Conference and join the Big 12.
"We’re just really excited about where we are, our profile,” UC Director of Athletics John Cunningham said. “Being ranked the top 10 football program right now, all of our other sports, what we’re able to achieve. It is all kind of coming together, it’s a culmination of a lot of work and we can’t be more excited about where we are.”
The Big 12, in an effort to fill the void caused by the departures of longtime members Texas and Oklahoma to the Southeastern Conference, also extended invitations to fellow American Athletic Conference schools Central Florida and Houston and current independent Brigham Young University.
Big 12 schools:UC to join conference; take a look at the other teams
As of now, Texas and Oklahoma will join the SEC in July 2025.
"This Big 12 invitation only confirms our core belief: UC has earned its seat at the Power 5 table,” Pinto said.
The AAC has an exit fee of $10 million and requires its members to give a 27-month notice of departure. If a school leaves before 27 months, the exit fee increases to a negotiated amount.
"We have every expectation that the three departing schools will abide by the conference bylaws to ensure an amicable and orderly transition," AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco said Friday. "We wish them continued success in the future."
Though it remains unclear how much Cincinnati will receive for an initial annual payout from the Big 12, the move to the conference will most certainly put the university in a much more comfortable place financially. The conference's members each received about $40 million in television revenue last year. Cincinnati currently receives about $7 million annually in TV revenue in the AAC.
"While there are financial benefits to our conference move, including a significantly enhanced position to secure a long-term media-rights agreement consistent with our investment in athletics, just as important is the access the Big 12 Conference will provide to our teams." Cunningham said. "Our goal is to win national championships, and by joining the Big 12, all of our teams will have more avenues to do so. We also will witness a higher level of recruiting, the enhancement of our national brand, and an expected heightened awareness of our institution across the world."
UC in recent years has invested $173 million into renovations of both Nippert Stadium and Fifth Third Arena. The increase in revenue will allow the university to move forward with its plan to build a permanent indoor football practice facility and other endeavors.
It remains to be seen if Cincinnati will need to add a softball program. The Big 12 has perennially competed for national championships in the sport, with Oklahoma winning five national titles, including one this year.
Though Cincinnati has historically and traditionally been a basketball school, UC football coach Luke Fickell has positioned the Bearcats into being arguably the top Group of Five program in the country. But first-year UC men's basketball coach Wes Miller said he's excited about the opportunities being a part of the Big 12 will bring his program.
"We are very excited about this upcoming journey," Miller said. "The Big 12 is one of the premier leagues in college basketball, and Cincinnati's recent and historical successes are an incredible fit. It's an opportunity that transcends Fifth Third Arena and will provide an immeasurable impact on our university and city."
Miller, who was hired in April, will look to catch up with Fickell. After winning the program's first AAC championship and finishing last season No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings, Fickell's Bearcats are currently ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press poll and No. 8 in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA coaches poll and are the favorite to win the AAC again this season.
"This is an incredible opportunity for not only our football program, but the Bearcats community as a whole," Fickell said. "I'd like to thank our university and athletics administration who have put us in this position. Our objective has always been focused on playing for championships, and we feel this move to the Big 12 provides a tremendous boost."
Fickell signed a contract extension last year that keeps him at Cincinnati through 2026. The extension pays Fickell $3.4 million a year, making the 48-year-old coach the second-highest paid college football coach in the Group of Five. Houston's Dana Holgorsen ($3.7 million) is the highest paid.
Fickell said Tuesday he knew nothing about Cincinnati joining the Big 12.
"If this is legitimately true, it’ll be a bit of a shock," said Fickell, who is 36-14 in five seasons at Cincinnati. "Has it been five or six months of work? Maybe. But whoever's done it has kept a really good secret. How much does it affect us? I don't know. How much have I been involved in it? Absolutely none. Those are the things where you just say hey, we've got a lot to do with 125 guys, trying to find a way to mesh everything together. You trust and believe that the higher-ups, the president and AD and them, if they feel this is what's best and there's an opportunity, I'm sure they'll be aggressive to do it."
The Enquirer's Madeline Mitchell contributed to this story.