Last week, the Big XII conference, on the heels of a tumultuous summer that saw the University of Texas and Oklahoma University put in their notice to leave for the Southeastern Conference, extended invitations to four schools — BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, and, YES, the University of Houston — to stabilize the conference and bring the total membership back to twelve teams.
On Friday, those four schools accepted those invitations, so now the University of Houston gets its nearly decade long wish of bumping up to a Power Five conference. If you recall, back from about 2014 through the early part of 2016, the Cougars spent every waking moment primping and grooming themselves, trying to look as pretty as possible for the Big XII. It was a massive sales effort that was ultimately unsuccessful, as the Big XII conference decided to stay with ten teams as the roster.
Had the Coogs attained Big XII membership back then in 2016, there might have been a parade through the Third Ward. It was THAT important and prestigious. This time around, it IS important for UH (television revenue should at least triple for the school) and it IS prestigious (the Big XII, for now, remains a Power Five conference), but the courtship is more out of desperation, with the departure of Texas and Oklahoma sending shockwaves through the eight campuses left behind.
It's more of a shotgun wedding between those eight schools and the four newcomers. The four schools coming in are all celebrating, and the other eight schools are happy that there is a plan moving forward, but it still feels like this whole thing could crumble at any time. It's college sports in the high stakes media rights era. It's still every man for himself.
That said, if this thing holds up over time, the new Big XII, even without Texas and Oklahoma, has the potential to be a lot of fun, especially here in Houston. Here are four reasons why:
4. It’s anybody’s conference
Since the second year of the College Football Playoff existing, in 2015, the Oklahoma Sooners have won the Big XII championship every season. With Iowa State proving to be fraudulent this past weekend, it appears that's what we're on track for this season, as well. With Oklahoma leaving, there is no real blue blood, gold standard football program. Every program left behind, save Kansas, which hasn't been good since Mark Mangino, and maybe Texas Tech since Mike Leach left, has been highly relevant at some point recently. The four schools coming in have all either been to a recent New Year's Six bowl or, in the case of BYU, been a solid, competitive program. My point is that nearly every head coach in the new Big XII can sell the dream of a conference title, and a trip to the College Football Playoff as a reasonable goal, especially once the playoff expands beyond four teams.
3. The mini Texas civil war, adding UH, gives us some fun games here locally with Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech
If you're a University of Houston season ticket holder for football, your season tickets just became a lot more fun. Games against East Carolina, Memphis, and Temple (no disrespect to those fine institutions) have been replaced by games against Texas schools that you actually care about — Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech. Sure, none of them are the Longhorns or the Aggies, but at least there is SOME history there. In the short term, for as long as Dana Holgorsen is the head coach of the Coogs, you'll get games with the school he coached for nearly a decade before returning to Houston, the West Virginia Mountaineers, so that's kind of saucy, too!
2. This will be a KILLER basketball conference
Football is the driver in all the conference realignment talks. That's where the big television money is. However, it's worth noting that this realignment is not a "football only" deal. The remainder of the sports, including basketball and all of the Olympic sports, will now compete in the Big XII, as well. The Big XII was already arguably the best basketball conference in the country BEFORE realignment. Now, you swap out two good but not great basketball schools (Texas and Oklahoma) for one that is currently in a period of greatness (Houston) and two that have been generally good over recent history (BYU and Cincinnati). With defending champ Baylor and blue blood Kansas still around, this should still be a KILLER basketball conference, and fresh matchups with the legacy Big XII schools and Houston should be awesome.
1. The recruiting windows into Ohio and Florida, and more traction in Houston, will give us some intense recruiting battles
Recruiting is the lifeblood of any collegiate sports program, and in college football, recruiting has a geographic "land rush" element to it. Texas is perhaps the biggest recruiting hotbed in college football, and the Big XII already had a foothold here in our great state, with TCU, Texas Tech, and Baylor. The addition of Houston gives the conference a presence in the best football city in the best football state. Add in Central Florida giving the Big XII a window into Florida (second to Texas in recruiting hotbed ratings) and Cincinnati giving the conference a window into Ohio, a stout high school football state in its own right, and this should make for some fascinating recruiting battles along the way. Nation Signing Day just became more fun with the addition of these four schools!
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