When it was made official that Santa Ono would be leaving Cincinnati in favor of the University of British Columbia (his hometown school) on Monday afternoon, it brought to attention a number of important questions. What's next for the University of Cincinnati? Who will be the next president of the school? What are the academic implications?
However, one question that may loom larger than the rest (at least for us sports folks) is what does it mean for UC's Big 12 hopes?
From the jump, Ono was a vocal and aggressive petitioner for UC's inclusion in any potential Big 12 expansion. The relationships he forged and goodwill he created with other presidents and higher ups in the Big 12 went a long way in making UC one of the favorites to get the invite should the league add members.
Not only that, but he had to have a great deal of hands-on oversight into UC's pitch to the Big 12. His fingerprints can be found on the more than half a billion dollars the school has committed to its athletic programs in recent years, including upgrades to Nippert Stadium and Fifth Third Arena. He also has been around for a real growth of UC's academic standing, helping to increase research funding and the overall size and performance of the school.
While there are things outside of Ono's direct control (TV viewership, location etc.), he helped raise the profile of UC and make it a legit contender for a spot in one of the power five conferences. It stands to reason that his role with the school was one of the major points on the positive side of the pros and cons list (who really knows what is going on behind those closed doors?) the Big 12 is/was using to weigh the UC as a potential member.
The situation UC is now in will make it tougher, although not by too much, for it to get into the Big 12. The Bearcats are now trying to sell something without their top salesman around to shake hands and make sales calls. Its not just Ono's personality that is a loss but the consistency he brought to the table. The Big 12 is clearly taking its time with this whole expansion business, so considering a school that is suddenly facing a shakeup at the very top makes things a bit riskier and that could turn away even the most pro-UC members of the Big 12's inner circle.
Its akin to deciding you want to buy a house, finding a realtor (we'll call her Janice) who you really connect with, spending months looking at places, discussing your hopes and plans, meeting for a lunch a few times, making calls at all times of day and then, when you're ready to get the paperwork started, finding out that Janice has moved to Vancouver and you will now need to work out the details with somebody else. Sure, you're still going after the same house and the numbers will still add up, but not having that element of consistency makes it a little more difficult to pull the trigger on such a major decision.
UC's candidacy for the Big 12 has been so positive in large part because it is the least risky of the potential candidates. Cincinnati is consistently strong athletically, brings a solid TV market and opens up the state of Ohio. That won't change because Ono is gone, but having a leader who was all in on making it into the Big 12 helped to supplement the strong but unsexy case the Bearcats made. After all, UC can't hope to bring the New York or Florida markets and it isn't a #VideoGameSchool.
Ensuring it is still in the running for the Big 12 remains a high priority for UC as evidenced by comments made by provost and interim president Beverly Davenport during a press conference following the Ono announcement.
Davenport: "I think any of the Power 5 conferences would be lucky to have us."— Jason Williams (@jwilliamscincy) June 13, 2016
Davenport says it will be a team effort moving forward with talking to Big 12, with her being the point."— Jason Williams (@jwilliamscincy) June 13, 2016
Its good to see that UC is ready to keep the #Big12Confirmed train going and for all intents and purposes it should. Ono was a major piece of the puzzle but even if he is no longer on campus, that doesn't mean UC is still not in good position to make the Big 12 cut. Its just worth noting that his departure won't make things any easier.