After Big XII Rejects Expansion, What Now for University of Houston?
The possible seismic shift in the Big XII analyzed in our September 2015 cover story still hasn't materialized.
If you've been following Big XII expansion discussions in this space — and honestly, in Houston, nobody has been on this story longer than we have, going all the way back to our September 1 cover story LAST YEAR — stay with me for the next few paragraphs, okay?
Back in the late '80s, when the WWE was called the WWF and it was at the height of its campiness with all of its colorful, over-the-top characters, Ted DiBiase was known as the "Million Dollar Man." Billed as being from a different affluent city depending on the time of year (for example, in the summer, he was introduced as "making his summer residence in Martha's Vineyard," or something like that), DiBiase's character was an evil multimillionaire whose gimmick was that he would offer to pay common folks to do menial tasks, tasks whose sole purpose was to entertain DiBiase.
The key in the whole shtick, which took it from evil to out-and-out bullying, was the fact that DiBiase would ultimately stiff the desperate folks who were groveling for his money, all the while cackling in their faces afterward and reminding them of what inferior human beings they were.
Here's an example...
Now, we have news coming down yesterday that the Big XII would be staying with their existing ten schools and not expanding, after all (again, an outcome predicted here in this space back on August 17 before the presentations) — this, after making about a dozen schools, including the University of Houston, grovel for membership in a dog and pony show several weeks ago
Now, go back and watch the above video; however, this time around, pretend that DiBiase is University of Oklahoma president David Boren (the spearhead of this disjointed expansion evaluation process) and that the lady barking like a dog is the University of Houston. Or Cincinnati. Or UConn. Or BYU.
That's essentially what the last year or so of expansion discussion, conjecture and (at times) excitement has boiled down to — the Big XII's opting to remain with the status quo, the popcorn fart to end all popcorn farts. The news of the conference's decision leaked out late last week, and was confirmed Monday afternoon following the Big XII presidents meeting in Dallas.
The Big XII offered up fistfuls of cash to all the expansion hopefuls to get on their knees and bark like dogs...and then paid them nothing.
For their part, the leadership at the University of Houston, president Renu Khator and athletics director Hunter Yurachek, took the high road, keeping their chins up and hoping for a brighter tomorrow:
Statement by Renu Khator, UH President and UH System Chancellor:
“The Big 12’s decision in no way changes the mission of the University of Houston that began long before there was talk of conference expansion. UH is a diverse, Tier One research institution that is on the move. We remain committed to strengthening our nationally competitive programs in academics and athletics that allow our student athletes to compete on the national stage. We are confident that in this competitive collegiate athletics landscape an established program with a history of winning championships and a demonstrated commitment to talent and facilities in the nation’s fourth largest city will find its rightful place. Our destiny belongs to us.”
Statement by Hunter Yurachek, Vice President of Athletics:
“Today’s news is not just about the University of Houston and the Big 12 Conference, it’s about the evolving landscape of collegiate athletics. It does not, and will not, deter our mission of building champions for life. Our goals, which were in place long before expansion conversation began, will not change. As a progressive Tier One institution that places a competitive emphasis on both academics and athletics, the University of Houston will continue to operate in the national spotlight in one of the nation’s premier athletic conferences and dynamic cities.”
So this raises a few questions, which I will do my best to answer here...
How did a sales process that involved multiple schools spending thousands of dollars to make slick presentations end with the "customer" doing nothing?
The short answer is "It's the freaking Big XII, the most dysfunctional conference in the Power Five! What did you expect?" The long answer is believed to be that the conference's two biggest network partners, ESPN and FOX, which pay a combined annual amount approaching $30 million to each school for their broadcast rights, balked at paying another $20-$30 million apiece to the schools added in expansion. They would have been required to pay that amount, per the terms of their agreement with the conference. Clearly, the rights to, say, Houston and Cincinnati games aren't worth anywhere close to that amount, and in a world where networks are losing subscribers, the Big XII would have been asking their TV partners to do something potentially untenable long-term. Instead, it appears ESPN and FOX will pay the existing ten members of the Big XII some lesser amount to NOT expand. As always, following the money is a key in this process.
Will the door open for expansion again?
The Big XII powers that be have said that expansion is no longer an "active agenda item." Then, like a half hour later, Boren said "never say never." The Big XII, ladies and gentlemen!
What exactly were the stakes here? How much did the presenting schools lose out on?
As mentioned earlier, the annual television income for each Big XII school is believed to approach upwards of $30 million. (Texas's amount is significantly higher because of the $15 million per year in additional revenue the school rakes in from the Longhorn Network.) Conversely, the AAC, Houston's collegiate athletics home now and for the foreseeable future, is in the middle of a seven-year, $126 million deal for the entire conference's TV rights. Yes, Big XII membership would've been a game changer, kids. Which brings us to the elephant in the room...
Does this mean that Tom Herman is basically gone for another school?
Probably so, but only Herman knows for sure. Big XII membership would've resulted in a big payday for Herman, whose contract calls for a $5 million bonus if Houston is granted admittance into a Power Five conference. Honestly, though, while Big XII membership makes Houston a better head coaching job, it doesn't make it a marquee head coaching job. If a big enough school came along and wanted Herman (and Herman wanted the job), they can find enough money to easily cancel out the $5 million bonus. My point is, while Big XII membership might have helped, there was no guarantee that it would keep Herman at U of H.
What's the best-case, long-term scenario for the University of Houston?
Assuming that the Big XII doesn't reverse course on its latest stance on expansion (which, let's face it, could happen next week with these dunderheads), the next time that we should see a shift in the conference landscape would be heading toward 2025, which is when the Big XII's TV contracts and grant of rights agreements end. At that time, the next big shift COULD be Texas and/or Oklahoma leaving the Big XII for one of the other Power Five conferences, which would essentially spell the end of the Big XII. So why would this be at all good for Houston? Here's why...
If Texas and Oklahoma decided to move to different conferences, a neutered Big XII would no longer be a Power Five conference. You'd essentially have a Power Four — the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC. This would likely be the shift that could bring about the four 16-team super conference structure everybody has been pining for. (Point of procedure — I am skeptical we EVER get to that day because, while the math is convenient, the geography and politics are incredibly messy in the 4*16=64 structure. But I digress.)
With 54 teams currently in the SEC (14), Big Ten (14), Pac-12 (12) and ACC (14), that leaves ten spots open for other schools. Rest assured, the new Power Four would not just divide up the ten Big XII schools and parse out JUST THEM. After Texas and Oklahoma determine their homes (and the conferences and independent Notre Dame figure out a solution for the Irish), it would basically be a beauty contest among the remaining FBS schools for the other seven spots.
Texas Tech would likely tie themselves to Texas, and Oklahoma State would almost assuredly be tied to OU (politics, people), so that would leave five spots for the following schools, among others:
San Diego State
I can't imagine the five remaining spots going to schools outside of the above list, although the service academies (Navy, Army, Air Force) probably deserve a mention, at least.
If you're Houston, the questions are "Are we one of the top five schools on this list AND can we find a good geographic fit?" It gets tricky, for sure. The SEC probably isn't taking Houston, the Big Ten will balk at UH's academics (they're a tad snobby that way), and the ACC might see it as just an unwieldy fit. Houston's best bet would be for Texas to take a slot in the Big Ten, and then the Pac-12, looking to get into Texas, would scoop up some combination of UH, TCU and/or Baylor. It's this scenario under which the sheer size of the Houston metro area plays into the Coogs' favor.
So while things look bleak right now, all is not lost. My advice would be to exercise and eat your vegetables so you're around in eight years to watch the fireworks again.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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