One of my good buddies runs the popular UH Twitter account @HoustonBig12. In addition to promoting the Coogs ever chance he gets, @HoustonBig12 has been carefully cultivating some very credible sources within ABC/ESPN regarding conference realignment and expansion.
What He’s Hearing From ESPN
What he’s hearing directly from his sources is that the networks are working closely with the power brokers in the Big 12 conference and at Fox to determine which schools would be the best fit to add to the conference. Right now the top three candidates for expansion are Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF. The source is also saying, should the conference agree to expansion, UCF is essentially a “done deal” as the Big 12’s eleventh member (barring any major meltdown in 2015), with either Houston or Cincinnati gaining the 12th spot.
He’s hearing that the power brokers (ABC/ESPN, Fox, & Big 12) are closely watching Houston and Cincinnati to see how well their fanbases can pack their stadiums this upcoming football season and how many season tickets they can sell. They know that the schools would sellout constantly with Big 12 membership but they’re debating how strong the fanbases are right now without backing of a Power 5 conference. They will get together after the season to evaluate the state of the Cougar and Bearcat programs.
The power brokers are also strongly watching how well the Houston and Cincinnati football teams perform on the field this upcoming season and are also considering the quality of facilities of other major sports. In Houston’s case: How committed the school is for getting Hofheinz Pavilion renovated for big time college basketball.
Also, to show that @HoustonBig12 isn’t the only source, another Cougar fan Jared Gogets is reporting something similar as well. He’s writing that ESPN is pushing hard for Houston and BYU to join the Big 12. Even though what he’s saying is slightly different, that’s still two separate sources inside ESPN claiming Houston is high on the list for Big 12 expansion. This is in addition to what we wrote last week.
Scenarios The Power Brokers Are Considering
According to @HoustonPac12‘s source, the Big 12 has 3 different situations under consideration for this year, each with their own planned processes on how the Big 12 is going to approach it:
A team(s) in the Big 12 becomes ranked high enough where they could/should get into the playoffs, but don’t due to lack of a championship. Example: TCU and Baylor last year.
Team(s) in the Big 12 get into the college playoffs.
No team(s) come close to getting into the college playoff this year.
What Would Happen:
Under situation #1 the Big 12 with a 90% certainty will expand before the 2016 season. UCF will almost positively get an invite. Of the remaining spot, both UH and Cincinnati will be under speculation. If UH has over 33,500 average fan attendance and either makes it to the AAC championship game or wins it (preferably the latter) UH will get the invite. If Cincinnati does the same and averages out at 33,500 and makes or wins the AAC championship game then the Big 12 will most likely make athletic improvements a contingency. For instance they would inquire as to the time table and spending limit with Hofheinz, the Baseball clubhouse and etc. they would also inquire to Cincinnati about this and make the determination then.
Under situation #2 The Big 12 would not expand or realign under its own terms for several years.
Under situation #3 the Big 12 would elect to wait another year and then see what happens with the situation of one of their teams not making it to the playoffs due to lack of a championship, even though they should be in. In this case, essentially everything in question this year would be exactly the same as last year.
Why This Makes Sense
It’s no secret that the television networks (ABC/ESPN, Fox Sports, etc.) have a heavy influence in the whole process. When the Big 12 looked like it was going to implode five years ago, the tv networks were working hard behind the scenes to keep the conference together so they could keep the advertising dollars flowing. In the Big 12’s current television deal agreements through 2024-25, the conference broadcasts games on both groups of networks:
“ABC/ESPN and FOX to place games on over-the-air networks (ABC and FOX) as well as cable outlets (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, FOX Sports 1 , FCS and FOX regional sports networks).”
This means both networks are working together and the networks and the conference will be watching this upcoming season closely before making a decision. They have a lot to take into consideration: ESPN wanting to support the SEC Network and Longhorn Network and Fox wanting to support the Big Ten Network. Any expansion the networks push for mustn’t hurt their current conference relationships.
What Can Change
The power brokers may end up changing their mind on expansion if, for example as I mentioned above, TCU or Baylor runs the table and makes the playoffs at the end of 2015. Of course, that may happen and the power brokers may still push for expansion to make the conference stronger for the next several years. This is a very fluid situation and a lot can change rapidly.
What This Means For Houston Fans
It is absolutely imperative that Cougar fans pack TDECU Stadium in the fall this upcoming season. If you want the University of Houston to be in a larger athletics conference and thus earn more money for academics and the rest of the university, then support the football team! This is one of the most important things the Big 12 and the television networks are looking at. UCF averaged 37,000 fans last season and UH and Cincinnati were slightly over 28,000. If we can blow Cincinnati out the water with our support this season, even adding a minimum of 5,000 more fans per game (33,500), it would help push us closer to an invite. But of course we need to have the stadium sold out to really state our case!
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