You’ve got to hand it to Houston. That was a boss move.
It started with this tweet from Texas Governor Greg Abbott:
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) July 21, 2016
Five hours later, Greg Fenves, the president of the University of Texas at Austin, tweeted this:
As we look at opportunities for Big 12 expansion, I support considering @UHouston for the conference. UH is a huge asset for Texas.
— Greg Fenves (@gregfenves) July 21, 2016
I wrote Wednesday that those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know.
Those who know are now talking.
This is a massive power play by the University of Houston, and it goes back to what I’ve been saying for a long time now: Football in Texas IS political. It always has been. Now we’re seeing it on full display.
There are a bunch of conspiracy theories flying around the internet about why the Governor of Texas and the president of his state’s largest university would go all-in so publicly in support of Houston joining the Big XII, but the most plausible reason has no conspiracy behind it at all – It’s a deal.
This story by Brian Davis of HookEm.com, the Austin American-Statesman’s UT blog, lays it all out.
TL;DR: The UT System wants to build a 300-acre satellite campus just southwest of Houston proper. Obviously, UH, being a large state university already in the fourth-largest city in the country, doesn’t want that, and its supporters want to block it in the Texas legislature. So if you’re UT, what do you do?
So if you’re UT, what do you do?
You cut a big deal, of course!
This is a coup for Houston. For one thing, their athletic program still smarts after the Cougars were locked out of the Big XII when it initially formed in the early ’90s. When the Southwest Conference broke up, Houston had a Heisman winner (Andre Ware), another potential one on the way up (David Klingler), and played in the Astrodome. But then, Ann Richards, then the governor of the Lonestar State, pushed to get her alma mater into the Big XII over them.
That school? Baylor, who was universally awful in the league only until Art Briles got there.
Fast-forward 25 years and now Houston could get their golden ticket.
Remember that Houston’s head football coach, Tom Hermann, has a bonus clause in his contract that pays him $5 million on the spot if UH joins a conference with annual per-member TV revenues of $20 million or more.
Hint: It ain’t the Sun Belt.
So the stars are aligning for the Cougs.
What about UCF?
Well, let’s say Houston is a lock. Given that the Big XII Conference is essentially a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Texas, I feel pretty confident in saying that.
Following this story for three years, I can tell you that there’s plemty of momentum for Cincinnati to join. Traveling to Morgantown, West Virginia is a royal pain in the ass for non-football squads, so pairing them with Cincy, just a four-and-a-half hour bus ride away, makes both geographical and financial sense.
If the Big XII decides to only bring in two schools, well, there’s your two.
But what about BYU?
No. Just, no. No one in the Big XII wants to deal with BYU’s no-play-on-Sunday policy (the freakin’ Mountain West got tired of it). And especially not SMU and Baylor.
But what about joining as a Football-only school?
Go ask the Big East how well that worked out.
Time to board the Speculatron…
My utterly uninformed guess is that UCF’s only – and I mean ONLY – chance at getting into the Big XII (assuming it decides to expand at all) – is if the league decides to add four teams, not just two.
The fan in me says the Big XII should invite four, but I’m a UCF fan so of course I want that to happen.
I also want team number four to be USF for the following reasons:
- I want to see UCF kick their ass every year.
- It just about guarantees the bulk of Big XII teams at least one game in the state of Florida each year.
- I maintain the UCF/USF Rivalry is one of the most intense rivalries in the country and I’ll fight anyone who says different.
But this is the Big XII we’re talking about, and these people don’t make decisions willy-nilly. They’re Texans, so by nature, they’re conservative.
So UCF President (and Houston native) John Hitt has to get on it now and start making some phone calls. I don’t know if he has a deal in place to, I don’t know, sell Kennedy Space Center to Texas and move it next to Johnson Space Center in Houston, but it might help.
In the meantime, just like when a hurricane comes, I’m hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.