The University of Cincinnati Bearcats defeated the Miami University RedHawks, 49-14, in the first game of the 2021 season on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021.

On July 1, 2024, the University of Cincinnati (UC) and all its athletic programs will be leaving the American Athletic Conference (AAC) and moving to one of the "Power Five" conferences in the Big 12. After a decade in the AAC, the move will bring fresh competition, recruiting, finances and fans to the university.

Big 12 athletic programs have been decorated as well as any over the last decade, something the Bearcats will have to adjust to quickly. UC women's basketball head coach Michelle Clark-Heard started her coaching career in the Big 12 and knows that the competition will be tough.

"It's going to be really important that we all go in and be able to try to compete [in the Big 12] from day one," Clark-Heard said. 

Since 2018, the Power Five conference has seen women's basketball, men's basketball, men's golf, men's track and field, men's swimming and women's tennis teams all win national championships representing the Big 12. 

"The name recognition, the tradition those schools have, it'll be exciting," Cincinnati baseball head coach Scott Googins said. "Not only football and basketball, but baseball-wise you'll be able to come out and see Oklahoma State play, TCU or Texas Tech. It's been seven years in a row that the Big 12 has had a team in the college world series."

With Big 12 teams playing at the high level they are, Cincinnati's recruiting process could see change throughout all of its sports. The UC baseball team and coach Googins recruit primarily in the Midwest region but often compete against southern Power Five schools and lose out on top names. Due to the new label, coach Googins believes new opportunities will come. 

"There's name recognition, there's a lot of tradition, they've got great venues," Coach Googins said. "They draw good crowds, so from that standpoint, we're hoping that increases our recruiting in being able to keep local kids here."

The branding and recruitment strategies have already started to take place, as the scoreboard of Cincinnati's Gettler Stadium dons the Big 12 logo, with Big 12 flags also waving in pride during home football games. 

"We just don't get the notoriety or the respect that the Big 12 or SEC gets," coach Googins said. "So getting in with the Big 12 will bring name recognition."

With name recognition comes a potential influx of cash flow that could upgrade sporting facilities around the university. Even with the pandemic, the Big 12's total revenue reached $409 million during the 2020 year. 

"[UC] have invested in us already, and I know that's something they'll continue to do," coach Clark-Heard said. "I know they're already working to raise money to be able to do the things that they need to do across the board for every sport."

An underrated aspect of the move is the impact on the Bearcat fans throughout Cincinnati and the surrounding areas, who will have the chance to watch big-name programs come to Clifton to take on the Bearcats in various sports. 

Re-sparking the old rivalry with West Virginia University and facing off against schools such as Oklahoma State or Kansas will excite fans while still playing AAC rivals UCF and Houston, who will be joining the Big 12 along with Cincinnati.

The Big 12's dominance in basketball over the last five years is hard to skim over. Adding one of the most decorated basketball programs in NCAA history in the Cincinnati Bearcats along with an ever-growing Houston Cougars program will solidify the men's and women's Bearcat basketball home games as a must-watch.

Around Clifton, shirts have been made with Big 12 branding, and the Bearcats have been receiving support on all social media platforms on an astronomical level. It is evident that UC fans are ready to face the new competition and will be with the Bearcat athletes every step of the way.

"I think it's huge [for the community]," coach Clark-Heard said. "Overall, I think it's something this city has been waiting for and to be able to embrace."