I wrote back in February about momentum building around the University of Houston joining the Big 12 conference. Recent rumblings and rumors surrounding Big 12 conference realignment makes me think that the Cougars will be getting an invite to the Big 12 conference sooner than later.
I’m not going to post the details of the rumors here, because they’re just rumors, not public statements. The rumors are saying that the Big 12 is strongly considering adding the Houston Cougars to the Big 12 conference and that conference leaders are intrigued by the potential of the school. UH is also considered to be the #1 candidate on the Big 12’s radar, according to the rumors.
Before the critics jump down my throat and say, “You run a Houston fan blog, of course you think it’s going to happen!,” understand that this post is going to discuss why I think the Big 12 will expand and if the conference is considering UH, why it makes sense.
Why the Big 12 will likely expand
The Big 12 currently has only ten members but needs twelve members to play a conference championship game. Lack of a championship game is surely why TCU and Baylor were left out of the inaugural college football playoff in favor of Ohio State. Also, a conference championship game brings more money to the conference.
University of Oklahoma President David Boren is starting to get very aggressive about expanding the Big 12. Check out this article here. As the article notes:
He [Boren] then dropped a bombshell — if the conference expanded from 10 teams to 12, each of the current member’s share from primary TV revenue would not go down.
TL;DR: Boren is publicly pushing hard for the Big 12 to expand, while simultaneously positioning OU to have significant leverage to join either the Big Ten or the Pac 12 if they can’t get their way with the Big 12. Most likely, the Big 12 expands as the conference is on much more solid ground than back in 2011.
Why Houston is likely to get a Big 12 invite (in no particular order):
1. Size of the school, alumni base, and potential donor base
The University of Houston has nearly 41,000 students, more than 32,000 of which are undergraduates. UH also has an alumni base of over 260,000, most of whom stay in the Houston metro area after graduation. That’s a huge base of fans to draw from. If Houston were to join the Big 12, they’d be the second largest school in the conference ranked by enrollment.
The city of Houston is also home to the second largest number of corporate headquarters in the country, just behind New York City. A strong local team in the Big 12 helps generate additional donations from local businesses and businessmen (and women) to donate to the school, buy tickets, and sponsor events. The Big 12 will likely consider having a Big 12 championship game in the city of Houston (in addition to Dallas and possibly San Antonio). The Big 12 having a strong presence by having games played weekly in Houston helps drive even more eyeballs and sponsorship money.
2. The city of Houston is becoming SEC country
Texas A&M is located in College Station, Texas which is about 95 miles outside of Houston. When A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC, the Big 12 lost a big chunk of their fanbase. Between A&M and LSU, the city of Houston now has a sizable chunk of their fans who don’t care about the Big 12. This is a problem.
Yes, there are still lots of UH fans and UT fans in the city of Houston, but the Big 12 can’t risk one of the other Power 5 conferences from grabbing the Coogs first and missing out on the chance to take back the Houston market and all of the potential sponsorship revenue. If the Big 12 hesitates, the PAC 12 or ACC might sneak in and grab UH to get a foothold in the Texas market. Does the Big 12 really want to risk losing more mindshare in the forth largest metro area in the country? Remember what I wrote above in #1, increasing sponsorship money from area businesses is a huge reason why the Big 12 is looking at Houston.
3. Houston has a lot of history with the Big 12
The Cougars previously played with Texas, TCU, Baylor, & Texas Tech when the Coogs were in the Southwest Conference. If Houston were to join the Big 12, the Cougars are already rivals with these schools.
Rivalries are what makes the sport of college football great. Most great rivalries are schools close to one another where you personally know someone at the other school or who went to the other school. Houston fans know people at the other Big 12 schools and this would generate some very memorable games. Not a lot of people are going to get hyped up about TCU vs Memphis or Cincinnati vs Texas. Houston vs Texas or Houston vs Texas Tech would get people really excited about the games and bragging rights.
4. The Big 12 schools want to play in Houston on a regular basis
Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong is already on the record, stating that he wants the Longhorns to play more games in Houston. The Houston metro area is arguably the greatest collection of high school college football talent in the country and college coaches want to play here so local kids get a chance to watch their team play. Of course, recruits can take a visit up to Austin, Norman, Stillwater, etc. but having a scheduled game in Houston gives them another shot to watch the team play.
Parents, friends, and family also want to watch their sons/friends play and not everyone gets the opportunity to travel each week to the games. If a kid is from Houston but plays at Tech, for example, it may give family members another chance to go watch their favorite player. Not all family members can travel due to work and/or life commitments.
5. Texas politics
This is probably the biggest reason why Houston will be receiving an invite to the Big 12: Texas politics. University of Houston alumni have a very strong presence in the Texas Legislature and are very influential in the state and likely with the Big 12.
6. Houston’s new on-campus stadium is expandable to 60,000 seats
Houston’s new TDECU Stadium, built on the University of Houston campus, seats 40,000 and is expandable to 60,000 seats. At a capacity of 60,000 seats, TDECU would be a perfect size for weekly Big 12 games and would be larger than stadiums at TCU, Baylor, Kansas, and Kansas State.
7. Houston is the third best public school in Texas
Most people outside of the state of Texas don’t realize how strong academics are at the University of Houston. In 2011 UH became only the third public university in Texas to become a Tier 1 research foundation as awarded by the Carnegie Foundation. The only other schools with this designation are Texas and Texas A&M. Houston’s business school, law school, hotel & restaurant management program, among others, are frequently recognized as some of the best in the nation.
8. Houston’s new rail line runs on campus
The city of Houston’s Metro light rail line now connects the school with downtown, the Museum District, and other areas. Future visitors to the city will be able to stay in a hotel in downtown Houston and grab the light rail over to TDECU Stadium to watch a game and then maybe head over to Museum District or back downtown to the Theater District. Houston can become a key destination for opposing fans who want to have a nice weekend with the family while watching their favorite team play, much like when fans go to New Orleans or Atlanta they do a lot more in the city than just watch the game.
9. More kids on campus, but still a proud commuter school
Houston is commonly derided as a “commuter school.” A lot has changed about the school in the past decade that most outsiders are unaware of. UH now has 15% (6,000 people) of it’s student body living on campus and has plans to increase that number to 20%. Multiple new dorms have opened just since I graduated in 2008, helping build school pride and a greater sense of community.
And yet, I still say we’re a proud commuter school? Yes! The University of Houston isn’t your traditional university where most students come in and out in four years. A large percentage of the student body comes from hardworking, blue collar backgrounds and are first generation college students. Many Cougars are supporting families, live at home, and/or are working full-time while attending the university. So sometimes, people take a little longer to graduate from school here because of family/job commitments and aren’t able to live in campus housing. That’s okay! This school will never be a “blue blood” campus and will proudly always remain a school for the blue collar.
I will say that the atmosphere has drastically changed since I left in 2008. There are so many people on campus after school hours due to all of the new dorms and new bars and restaurants that have opened. The whole campus is very vibrant at night! And with the lightrail being open, more and more students will want to live on campus and hop the rail into the city.
10. Houston has never fully reached it’s potential
The University of Houston is finally moving towards realizing the full potential of the school. The Coogs football team started playing at Rice Stadium in 1951, then moved to the Astrodome in 1965, before finally moving back on campus in 1998 to Robertson Stadium. Houston doesn’t have a long history of playing games on campus, which I believe hurt the fan base potential. Our best years (the seventies and eighties) weren’t even played on campus, so students felt a bit isolated from the team.
By the time the Cougars moved back on campus, the SWC had already imploded and the Coogs were in the Conference USA. Slowly but surely the team playing games on campus has helped build a greater sense of community with the football program. Also, the Briles and Sumlin eras of success from 2003-2011 really helped re-ignite the campus and program.
Now, the Cougars finally have a brand new, state-of-the-art stadium of their own that opened in 2014. TDECU is much nicer than Robertson and is part of a strong campuswide revitalization project.
The Big 12 conference leaders will be looking not only at Houston’s history, but the potential of what the school can bring to the conference over the next twenty to thirty years.
A lot can happen over the next few years, but hopefully this blog post explains that, if the Big 12 is considering Houston, why it makes sense.