Sean Pendergast

Four Thoughts on Big XII Expansion Welcoming UH

The University of Houston may be joining their Texas brethren soon in the Big XII.
The University of Houston may be joining their Texas brethren soon in the Big XII. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Entering the college football season of 2016, the University of Houston was at the tailed end of a multiyear campaign to try to gain entry into the Big XII. Approval of their Big XII status would have meant a bump up to a Power Five conference and a windfall of TV money several multiples higher than the amount they were earning in the AAC.

Alas, they were unsuccessful in their one school beauty contest, with the Big XII deciding to remain at just ten schools. However, as it tends to do in college sports, the earth shifted again in 2021, with Texas and Oklahoma announcing a month or so ago that they were leaving the Big XII for the SEC, creating massive instability for the eight remaining Big XII schools left behind.

The snapshot of the Power Five conferences today would show a 16- team tour de force in the SEC, the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 in some rickety, treehouse-style alliance, and the Big XII scrambling to keep their Power Five status. To that end, this news came down on Friday morning, courtesy fo Matt Musil of KHOU:
So now five years later, the University of Houston appears to be on the cusp of getting their wish, only the TV money will likely be less than what they'd anticipated five years ago, and instead of joining a sure fire Power Five league, Houston is now a key component to the league lining to its Power Five label. Let's examine this news, and dive into what it all means:

What do the four new schools bring to the table?
So what's different now? What makes Houston a viable partner now when they were considered below standard in 2016? Frankly, the conference is in a different mode, after losing Texas and Oklahoma. They're in survival mode, and while Houston would gave likely cut into each school's TV money take in 2016, in 2021, Houston is viewed as an asset that will keep the revenue level at something respectable (although likely less than it is currently, with Texas and Oklahoma taking all that valuable cachet with them). As for the four prospective schools' ON the field product, they've all had seasons very recently where they performed at a high level. Houston and UCF have won New Year's Six bowl games, and Cincy participated in one last season. BYU was highly ranked most of last season, and sent the
No. 2 overall pick (Zach Wilson) into the NFL Draft.

Top to bottom, the football is actually on par with the Pac-12 and ACC
So with four solid to very good football schools on the way in, albeit with brands that pale in comparison to the departing Texas and Oklahoma, I think it's safe to say, in the current snapshot of the 2021 season, this repackaged Big XII group of schools, if they were their own conference this season, would be able to compare very favorably to the Pac-12 and ACC. (The SEC and Big Ten are on another level from these other conferences.)

Consider that, in the current AP poll, there are eight of the 12 future Big XII schools receiving votes. The Pac-12 and ACC each have five schools receiving votes. Currently, the top two would-be Big XII schools are both ranked higher than the top two Pac-12 schools, and only Clemson is ranked higher out of the ACC schools. This group of 12 schools will struggle in terms of brand recognition, but the on field product should be very, very good.

At least in the short term, the Big XII basketball season should be fun!
It's not clear yet when these four schools could join the Big XII, and we know it won't be in time for this coming basketball season, but let's pretend that these schools are able to maintain their respective levels of performance on the hardwood. This newly constructed Big XII would have Kansas, Baylor, and Houston! Two 2021 Final Four teams, and one of the bluest of blue bloods in Kansas. Cincinnati and BYU have been largely respectable programs through the years, as well. Basketball is not the driving force, obviously, but this is a nice unintended byproduct of the Big XII making the best of a dicey situation.

What's next for realignment? Because it never fully stops.
The Pac-12 declaring last week that they had no intention of expanding beyond their 12 member schools was the trigger mechanism for the Big XII to move forward with an expansion of their own. If this so called "alliance" between the Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC is real, then we should be in a period of relative realignment peace within the Power Five.

The lower tier Group of Five is another story. The AAC losing Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF means that the commissioners of the MAC and Sun Belt Conference need to keep their heads on a swivel, because they will likely be getting raided by Mike Aresco and the AAC. Barring the SEC triggering Armageddon, and courting, say, Ohio State and Clemson, the biggest chess piece out there is independent Notre Dame, and hell will freeze over before they give up their football independence.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast