Report: Documents Show Active Flirtation Between Big XII and University of Houston

Could we be adding two more mascots to this picture this summer?
Could we be adding two more mascots to this picture this summer?
Peter Bollinger

It's getting down to nut-cutting time in the evaluation of Big XII expansion, for both the conference's current members and its prospective members, and if the University of Houston doesn't gain admittance to the Big XII, it will not have been for a lack of trying.

And apparently, we have the documents to prove it.

According to a report on ESPN.com and documents obtained by the website, Houston is one of four schools who have been actively lobbying the Big XII for membership going back to last year, along with the University of Memphis, the University of Central Florida and Colorado State University. Here, in no particular order, are the things we learned from that report (interspersed with some opinion and conjecture of my own, where appropriate):

1. The Big XII three-president composition committee consists of Oklahoma president David Boren, Baylor president Ken Starr and West Virginia president Gordon Gee. Boren has been, by far, the most vocal advocate for expansion of the conference, going back to the 2014 College Football Playoff snub of TCU and Baylor, after which he said the conference was "psychologically disadvantaged." Starr, of course, was the federal judge who, back in the day, led the investigation of Bill Clinton's presidential philandering, and who now might be better served focusing on the rape problem his football program has on his own campus, as opposed to the Big XII's expansion issues. Gee is the former Ohio State president who once famously said that he hoped the then-OSU head football coach didn't fire HIM after allegations of NCAA violations surfaced in Columbus.

So yes, Coog Fan, your school's future conference structure is in the hands of this clown...

2. Apparently, Gee came to Houston for a visit back in late November of last year (I can't believe he didn't stop by to say "Hello" to me!) to tour the school's facilities and meet with high-ranking U of H officials, including school president Renu Khator, athletics director Hunter Yurachek and head football coach Tom Herman. Gee capped off his trip with a lunch that included Khator, three of the school's regents, vice chancellor Eloise Stuhr and Camden Property Trust CEO Ric Campo, who played a big part in Houston's landing the 2017 Super Bowl. My personal memo to U of H — have Herman as involved as you possibly can in this process, as one of the main selling points the school has going for it right now is the quality of the football program. History has shown that realignment decisions have been swung on in-the-moment football program quality. Ask TCU. Herman is a great — not good, GREAT — salesperson. Let him sell.

3. Khator followed up these meetings by sending Gee a spreadsheet of Houston's television ratings in the market last season, which is probably all they can do to make an argument that U of H will somehow grow the television audience in this market. Conference expansion's most important criterion has historically been a school's ability to grow a conference's footprint, which Houston obviously can't promise, considering there are four other Texas schools already in the Big XII. 

4. It would appear, according to the ESPN.com report, that U of H is the only school to get an on-site audience with Gee (or anyone else on the committee, for that matter). In February, Memphis president David Rudd penned a letter to the three presidents on the Big XII composition committee committing $500 million in facilities renovations at the school and enclosed a copy of a letter from FedEx chairman Fred Smith (FedEx is headquartered in Memphis.) pledging the company's support of the school's Big XII expansion campaign and commitment to sponsor a Big XII title game.

5. As for the other two schools who were highlighted in the report — the University of Central Florida and Colorado State — both apparently sent brochures to Gee about their schools, which is by far the funniest part of this report. Full disclosure — I used to sell phone systems about 20 years ago. As part of my sales efforts, I would send brochures to prospective clients before trying to cold-call their decision makers. That those two schools are treating the expansion process as if the Big XII is buying a phone system is pretty funny to me. I'm picturing the presidents of both UCF and CSU following up on their brochures by using all their Sales 101 cold-calling tactics to get past the "gatekeeper" ("Hello Mildred, it's nice to hear your voice...may I speak to President Gee, please?") and then trying to close Gee on an initial meeting to discuss a "great business opportunity." 

Even better, here were Gee's replies to the presidents of both schools:

"I appreciate very much our [phone] conversation, and I appreciate the information you sent me," Gee wrote UCF president John Hitt on Oct. 6. "Be assured that the University of Central Florida is very much on our radar screen. The future of expansion is very much uncertain, but I also know that we are looking at these issues very carefully given the tumultuous nature of college athletics."

Gee also praised Colorado State in a July 21 letter to president Tony Frank.

"Indeed, Colorado State is making a statement and moving swiftly into the forefront of universities, not only in your region but nationally," Gee wrote. "Be assured that my colleagues in the Big 12 and I will take careful notice."

Um, President Hitt and President Frank...sirs...I don't know much, but I know sales...these are the quintessential brush-off lines from a decision maker who has no intention of buying your products. I'd focus your efforts on something more productive for your schools. (SIDEBAR — College presidents are some of the least impressive people given their income and prestige levels that you will ever meet. Not all of them, not even most of them, but a way bigger portion than should be.) 

6. Conspicuous by their absence in these reports — the University of Cincinnati (the front-runner, in my opinion, to be added to the conference, based on all the criteria), BYU (the second school I would bet on, if the conference goes to 12), UConn (not sure why UConn isn't sending some brochures) and Boise State (a prospective realignment darling every time the topic comes up, until you realize that their football program has an underrated crime issue and they are located in market number 3,416). 

7. The Big XII presidents and ADs will meet on May 31 in Irving, Texas, where conference expansion will likely be heavily discussed. In the end, given that the conference has been granted an exception and can stage a conference title game without expanding to 12 teams, I still think this will remain a ten-team league going forward.

But you have to, at the very least, admire Houston's forward thinking and efforts to try to escape AAC purgatory. I just don't think it's going to work, not with a move to the Big XII, at least. If I were Khator, I'd find out what some of the Pac-12 presidents like to eat for lunch. 

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 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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