Where Big 12 expansion currently stands and where Houston fits in

Wednesday of last week the Big 12 conference was granted the right to hold a conference championship game without having twelve members in their conference. Here’s a detailed look on what this means for the Big 12, college football as a whole, and the University of Houston. In spite of my obvious homerism for the Coogs, I’m going to attempt to be as objective as possible. Please note that this is obviously a fluid situation and things can change rapidly.

Q: Does the deregulation vote mean Big 12 expansion is dead?

A: No, far from it. This simply means the Big 12 doesn’t need to expand in order to hold a conference championship game. The universities that comprise the Big 12 conference may still come to agreement in the future to add two new members. What Wednesday’s vote means is the conference has more leverage to negotiate against potential new members. If the vote had failed, the Big 12 would be more desperate and wouldn’t have the same leverage they have now.

The Big 12 colleges may end up having too much animosity and distrust to get an expansion deal done, and if that’s the case, then we could see even larger waves of conference realignment in the next 5-10 years.

Q: I thought you said Houston was a lock for the Big 12, were you wrong?

A: All indications from my sources told me that the Big 12 was looking very strongly at Houston, Cincinnati, UCF, Memphis, USF, Tulane, BYU, and UConn for expansion which still seems to be the case. Houston has long been one of the leading candidates, but nothing is 100% until a deal is signed and the Big 12 makes a formal announcement. The university presidents themselves may think one thing will happen but the final results may be slightly different when the school presidents actually sit down and negotiate out the details.

FWIW, Tulsa sportswriter Dave Sittler ranks UH currently #3 on the Big 12’s wish list. Sittler was the first prominent journalist to mention the Coogs being a viable candidate this past summer:

Q: What are your thoughts on the other candidates?

A: BYU likely won’t be invited because of how high maintenance they are. I think UConn is too far away but they’re strong academically. Tulane won’t happen but one of the Big 12 presidents really likes them for some reason. I think UCF, USF, & Memphis are not strong enough athletically or academically.

Q: Does the Big 12 really want another Texas school?

A: Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have been rumored to want the University of Houston as a member, possibly Baylor and a few others as well. When Texas A&M left, the SEC took a huge chunk of the Houston market. The northern schools (Oklahoma, OSU, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State) are rumored to be worried that they’ll lose out to future recruiting and marketing potential in the Houston market by not having a school in the Houston metro area after A&M left.

The old SWC and Big 12 never used to have any competition in the Texas market, but with A&M in the SEC, they may decide to bring the Cougars into the Big 12 to counter the SEC’s growing presence in East Texas. Plus, they may decide to make a preemptive move in fear that UH could get scooped up by another Power Five conference.

The Big 12 administrators are fairly old and remember the glory days of the SWC. Houston had a lot of success in the SWC in both football and basketball and has a rich history, including multiple conference titles, Final Four appearances, and a Heisman Trophy winner. I’ve covered more about Houston’s rich athletics history in the SWC here.

Q: You’ve mentioned politics works in Houston’s favor, can you elaborate?

A: The University of Houston is a large public school in Texas and has quite a few politicians in the Texas legislature who are UH alumni. Governor Abbot may also try to lean on UT to let Houston in because it would help the whole state out to have more schools getting national recognition. He’s been very public in giving respect to UH since taking office.

Q: Doesn’t UT hate UH?

A: There was reported bad blood between the old UT administration and UH, but UT has an entire new leadership at chancellor, president, and athletic director. It’s entirely possible they have different opinions than their predecessors.

Q: But I thought Houston doesn’t add any new markets?

A: The Big 12 doesn’t need to worry as much about new markets because the conference doesn’t (yet) have a conference television network. For now they simply want to add the sexiest schools possible, regardless of where the school is located.

Q: But wouldn’t Houston in the Big 12 hurt the other schools in recruiting?

A: Potentially, but I highly doubt two blue blood college football programs like Texas and Oklahoma are worried about Houston competing against them. Would Ohio State feel threatened by Cincinnati if the Bearcats joined the Big Ten? College presidents don’t care about the things coaches worry about (like recruiting). College presidents are super focused on academics and academic prestige.

Q: Oklahoma’s president David Boren has been very public, what does this mean?

A: David Boren has been speaking very publicly about the need for the Big 12 to expand. It’s hard to tell why he’s being so public in telegraphing his moves. The rumor is that if the Big 12 doesn’t expand in the next decade, Oklahoma will look to join the Big Ten or the Pac 12. Oklahoma likely prefers the Big Ten due to academic prestige, followed by the Pac 12 and the SEC third.

It’s entirely likely that Oklahoma wants to expand and has so far failed in negotiations behind closed doors and is going public with their plans in order to get momentum going for expansion and to eventually force the other schools to cave to their demands.

Q: If Oklahoma leaves, who’ll join them in leaving the Big 12?

A: Oklahoma State may be brought along or OU may try to team up with Texas or Kansas. Kansas is an AAU member and has one of the biggest basketball brands so they’d be a very attractive target alongside Oklahoma for either the Pac 12 or Big Ten.

Q: Would Texas leave the Big 12?

A: My gut feeling is that Texas wouldn’t leave the Big 12 even if Oklahoma and/or Kansas left. Texas gets to control the Big 12 whereas if they joined the Pac 12 they’d be forced to be on even-footing power wise with USC, Oregon, UCLA, etc. I think Texas likes being the alpha dog and wouldn’t want to share power. If Texas was good at sharing power and playing with others, Mizzou, A&M, and Nebraska wouldn’t have left the Big 12. But Texas may very well change their mind in the future and bolt for the Pac 12.

Q: Should Houston accept a Big 12 invite if offered one?

A: Don’t be crazy, if someone offers you a spot in a life boat to get off a sinking ship (the group of five), you take it. Any Power Five conference that offers the Cougars an invitation will be accepted ASAP by the Coogs. The additional prestige and revenue to the university is very important to the school administrators. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Q: Are any other conferences talking to Houston?

A: The Pac 12 has been rumored to have had an interest in Houston a few years back. The question is, who would join Houston in the Pac 12 if an invitation was offered? Perhaps Texas jumps at the chance and brings along OU and Oklahoma State and dumps Texas Tech for Houston because of the larger market. I doubt this will happen, but it’s an idea.

As far as other Group of Five programs, New Mexico or SMU would be decent additions pared with Houston, but both are fairly far down the totem pole in athletics I don’t see either being a viable option unless the Pac 12 really wanted to expand into these locations for recruiting and television.

Q: Is the Big 12 at-risk of collapsing and/or losing Power 5 status?

There’s always a possibly but I doubt it would happen. Even if Texas and Oklahoma left the conference would likely be able to backfill will members from the AAC. It’s very hard to lose power conference status. The Big East getting knocked down was a one-in-a-million disaster… the Big East had been offered a huge television contract and turned it down. After the conference turned down the tv deal the Big East had a huge exodus of members (West Virginia, Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh). Because of the turmoil the Big East split in two and had to settle for a smaller tv contract and their status was reduced. It would be very hard for this to happen again because it sets a bad precedent for the other power conferences.

If the Big 12 loses less than five members (ex: UT, OU, Okie State, & Tech) they should be able to retain Power Five status by adding in several new members to replace them.

If the Big 12 loses more than five members the conference would likely be at risk of total collapse and it could very well mean that several schools will be left out in the wake. Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Kansas State are all schools that may be left dangling in the wind if the Big 12 does outright collapse.

Q: Can the American Athletic Conference gain “Power” conference status?

A: As I mentioned above, it was a one-in-a-million situation for the old Big East to lose power conference status in the first place. The remaining Power Five wouldn’t be likely to give the new American Athletic Conference back the leverage and power that they lost.


There’s obviously a lot still up in the air but hopefully this helps explain a lot of what’s going on. I’m not trying to tell you what will happen, but what may happen based on insiders as well as my opinions. As the situation changes I’ll be sure to add another blog post in the future.

More places you can read about all of this stuff: