How University of Cincinnati can avoid being in basement of Big 12

The bells and whistles of the University of Cincinnati's July 1 entry into the Big 12 will soon fade into just whistles as various Bearcats teams go from hype and hope to actual competition soon.
UC's grand football entry into the Big 12 circle comes Saturday, Sept. 23, when Oklahoma comes to Nippert Stadium for the first time (their previous appearance came at then-Paul Brown Stadium in 2010). Coach Scott Satterfield's Bearcats will have home games vs. Eastern Kentucky and Miami University under their belt plus a tough road game at Pitt before they roll out the red carpet for the Sooners.
Making the move from the talk to the walk
UC Director of Athletics John Cunningham and staff have successfully driven the Bearcats' bus into the headlines by maneuvering into the Big 12, when initially they were snubbed. Helped by generous support, the UC administration executed the ever-changing maze of how to get into a Power Five conference with an early invite in September 2021.
By the end of the year, UC's football team had a history-making appearance in the College Football Playoff semifinal in 2021. Since then, the ball has been rolling, the construction cranes flying and excitement has been building along with new program-changing structures like the indoor facility and performance center being constructed across from UC's baseball field.
UC coaches attended Tuesday's ground breaking of the new indoor practice facility. From left are men's basketball coach Wes Miller, women's basketball coach Katrina Merriweather, football coach Scott Satterfield, major donors Larry and Rhonda Sheakley, UC athletic director John Cunningham and volleyball coach Molly Alvey.
Pictured are UC coaches at the groundbreaking of their new indoor practice facility. From left are men's basketball coach Wes Miller, women's basketball coach Katrina … Show more
While former Big 12 head Bob Bowlsby is the one who brought UC, UCF, Houston and BYU in, current commissioner Brett Yormark has set the bar high getting schools at a fever pitch. One step was holding Big 12 Media Days at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, AT&T Stadium.
"It felt like we were integrated into everything they were doing," Cunningham said of the experience for the four new teams.
Before Cincinnati, Satterfield at Louisville was used to ACC Media Days in a hotel room in Charlotte. This time he was able to charter to "Jerry World" with four of his Bearcats' best. If it's big, it's for Brett.
UC's Cunningham gave Big 12 an 'A' in Big 'D'
"He knows how to put on a big event," Cunningham said. "I expected it to be first class and it was."
Next up for Cunningham's crew is a Cincinnati meet and greet with coaches and fans at Madtree Brewing's Oakley Taproom from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 3. It's the finale of the Day One Tour stops that have gone from Cleveland to Columbus, to Chicago and to Dayton. As they've spread the Big 12 Bearcats word, the brains are at work on a new slogan to be released soon.
Cincinnati Bearcats athletic director John Cunningham speaks during a press conference at the Lindner Center in Cincinnati on Wednesday, June 21, 2023.
The UC chief is now a veteran of Big 12 affairs having worked at TCU when they were trying to get in, as well as Boise State and now the Bearcats. While the Bearcats won't get the full share of the Big 12 media deal initially, the $18 million-$19 million they'll receive is still more than double the American Athletic Conference share.
"Then, it's the full share (nearly $32 million per school), which is a true windfall for us," Cunningham said. "We've had to be very strategic about our budgeting as we want to continue to grow the right way. We budget on a seven-year plan and talk about what that would look like."
Where's coach Satterfield?
Better yet, where hasn't he been? After some well-deserved beach time in July, he was front and center at AT&T Stadium on ESPNU, then up on the podium. While Dontay Corleone, Jowon Briggs and Deshawn Pace had all been to the home of the Cowboys for the 2021 Cotton Bowl, it was Satterfield's first time in the luxurious venue.
"Our players one day want to play in stadiums like that in the NFL," Satterfield said. "For them to get to see that, it was full of media everywhere. It was really big-time. We're in the Big 12, there's going to be a lot of big-time things happening in this league."
Outside of that, he's been at Day One Tour stops meeting fans, throwing out the first pitch at a Reds game and delivering the ball to FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium. He's had more face time in town than someone running for office.
"It's one of the cool things about living in Cincinnati," Satterfield said. "I was able to go to a Bengals game and it was an incredible atmosphere. Then, Reds Opening Day and I got to throw a pitch out against the Braves. And FC Cincinnati was awesome. First time I've ever been. It was a great experience and we'll be back for sure. The teams here in Cincinnati are starting to do pretty frickin' good."
In his first year, he'd like to be the next.
"I know we're not picked very high in the league, but people don't know us," he said. "There's a lot of unknowns."
UC's basketball coaches have also experienced the reach of the Big 12
In addition to commissioner Yormark's ambition for football, he has big plans for basketball. One is establishing a foothold in New York City's (Harlem) Rucker Park, a haven for some of the game's greatest players in summer leagues.
As part of Big 12 Day in Rucker Park, Bearcats Men's Basketball Coach Wes Miller and new UC Women's Coach Katrina Merriweather were invited to attend as well as one of Merriweather's players, sophomore A'Riel Jackson from Brooklyn.
"He (Yormark) thinks about new and innovative ways to get that message out and to get our league out to different parts of the country and parts of the world," Miller said. "The Big 12 just does things first class. I've never been to Rucker Park before. As a basketball junkie, that was pretty neat to me."
Miller worked with kids and other Big 12 coaches, as did Merriweather. However, both admitted to getting some shots up before the day began in the historic playground.
"When you get a chance to stand there and think about all of the great basketball players that have played there and the history of the park, it's surreal," Merriweather said.
New baseball coach Jordan Bischell also makes Big 12 stop
The day he was hired from Central Michigan, new UC Baseball Coach did a press conference and then joined UC boosters (UCATS) on a riverboat cruise on the Ohio River overlooking his new hometown. He's since been assembling his team and coaching staff but did make the Day One Tour stop in Dayton.
Bischell is reforming a team that won 24 games this spring but is about to go to the Big 12 where Oklahoma won 32, Kansas State 35, West Virginia 40, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech 41, Texas 42 and TCU 44.
"Guys are thrilled to have a chance to compete at this level of competition," Bischell said. "Most people would probably tell you right now it's the third-best league in the country and some years maybe a little bit better. It's going to be tough, but that's why you do it, right? If you win half your games, you're going to be in the mix to play in the NCAA Tournament."
Preseason projections can test your patience, but patience is needed
What's known is Big 12 Media as a whole picked UC football 13th out of 14 teams. Of the college preview publications, Phil Steele has UC tied for 13th with Houston, with Athlon putting them 12th. Record-wise, CBS Sports spits out a win total of 5.5, 247Sports.com says 5-7 and the College Football Network says 4-8. If you're looking for an upside, Mike Farrell Sports, a recruiting site, likes the Bearcats at 8-4.
Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Deshawn Pace takes down Cincinnati Bearcats wide receiver Dee Wiggins (2) during the Cincinnati Bearcats spring scrimmage at Nippert Stadium on Saturday, April 15, 2023.
STEPHANIE SCARBROUGH/THE ENQUIRER
Travel could be a factor in the new league, but, football-wise, UC's in the middle of the pack in terms of miles scheduled to travel at 7,305, according to the sports betting site bookies.com. Two other newcomers, UCF (14,914) and BYU (12,741) will fly the friendly skies more, while Kansas State conserves at 3,240 miles on the docket.
As has been pointed out in men's basketball, UC's NCAA NET ranking was 63 last season, which would only put them ahead of Oklahoma's 70 of the current Big 12 (and also ahead of new members UCF and BYU). That means 10 schools in the highly rated basketball conference were rated higher.
Perhaps a lesson from 2005-2006?
When the Bearcats began football play in the Big East in 2005, new coach Mark Dantonio had to start some true freshmen and the season ended 4-7. Among those freshmen were future NFL players Connor Barwin and Haruki Nakamura. Since then, UC's only had three losing seasons. Two of those came in the first years of Butch Jones (2010) and Luke Fickell (2017).
In basketball, post-Bob Huggins and interim Andy Kennedy, Mick Cronin inherited a team that wasn't able to recruit and had to assemble a group to play in the hard knocks Big East when it included Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia and Louisville. Two losing seasons were endured and there have been none since. The upside was Bearcats fans got to see No. 9 Pitt and No. 12 Georgetown play here. There were also overtime wins over West Virginia and Seton Hall at then-Shoemaker Center.
So, no one telling the truth knows for sure how UC's teams will fare. What's known is the level of competition and exposure has increased. Keeping proper perspective, any level of postseason play while part of the Big 12 is a well-deserved reward.

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