Big XII Expansion Rumors Have University of Houston on Outside Looking In

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Ever since the shifting of collegiate athletics' tectonic plates hit overdrive back in the summer of 2010, the future structure of the Big XII has been the subject of much lively (and, at times, contentious) conversation. With the topics ranging from conference networks (or lack thereof) to simple math ("When the hell will they actually have TWELVE teams again?!"), much has been speculated and discussed in this space and others regarding the ten-team league. 

It's an especially sensitive topic locally in Houston, given the University of Houston's overt campaigning for a better lot in conference life than being the tallest midget in the American Athletic Conference. When you give your football coach a $3 million annual salary and hire Kelvin Sampson as your head basketball coach, it is partially to keep winning games and partially to show the Power Five conferences that you can behave like a Power Five school.

Now, it would appear that the Big XII is on the verge of making some big decisions about its future structure. According to an interview with University of Oklahoma president David Boren, who's been at the forefront of the movement to expand the conference from ten schools back to its original number of 12, the Big XII is getting close to figuring things out:

“We're in a fact-finding mode, we're in a data-gathering mode,” Boren said. “In other words, what will it mean to the stability of the conference? What will it mean financially to the conference?

“We've sort of said to ourselves, come this summer, we're going to have to finally make a decision about what we do. We cannot indefinitely postpone decisions. That's what I had gotten frustrated about. I thought we were spinning our wheels.”

But Boren says the presidents have agreed to research the numbers and let the data decide.

“And I think a consensus is forming around these three reforms,” Boren said. “So I'm in a personal mode of patience. Trying to be patient, because sometimes it takes time to work through.”

For fans of two "to be determined" schools, this should be fantastic news, if indeed the Big XII begins operating as a 12-school league again. For several other schools, spread out across a few different non-Power Five conferences, it will be another cold slap in the face when they're not chosen, a reminder of the growing chasm between the have's and have-not's.

Here are a few things we learned in the article, and what this could mean for the University of Houston:

1. The article prominently mentioned the University of Cincinnati as an expansion candidate, and then mentioned four other schools as leading candidates to be the 12th team — BYU, UConn, Central Florida and Boise State. Cincinnati is a virtual lock for a couple of reasons. First, its president, Santa Ono, is doing all the right things in order to position his school for what he hopes is inevitable expansion. The actual steps are detailed in a USA TODAY article, and it shows a leader with some true vision. Second, from a purely empirical standpoint, the Big XII's garnering a presence in the state of Ohio would play well in any presentation to television partners. Also, one ancillary benefit for Cincinnati in its campaign for membership is its proximity to West Virginia, as the Mountaineers are in dire need of a geographic neighbor in the conference. 

2. Of the other four schools mentioned, each brings interesting wrinkles to the table, pro and con. BYU seems to be the chalk, with the most traditional football program of the bunch and a prominent brand, but how good is the cultural fit, given the school's deeply religious roots? UConn brings the northeast marketplace, another solid TV story (the Huskies are bigger in New York than Rutgers, who parlayed geography into a Big Ten invite) and wildly successful basketball programs, men's and women's. UCF brings the Florida market, but in terms of timing, the "quality of the program" story couldn't be worse for UCF football. Boise State is a catchy brand in the football world, but the Boise market is ranked like one-billionth in the United States for media. (Sidebar — how badly is Memphis screwing this up to not even be mentioned?)

3. So now about U of H — it's not a huge surprise that the school is getting very little mention for a spot in the Big XII, given the politics involved (Texas schools like to bully each other) and the feeling within the conference that the Big XII already has a strong enough foothold in Houston with the alumni bases of its existing constituency. If the Cougars are going to find a Power Five home, it will more likely come from the off chance that the Pac-12 decides to make a move into Texas. Along those lines, the best thing Houston can do is keep winning football games and keep acting like a Power Five school.

4. One byproduct of Big XII expansion, if it were to happen, should be the end to any talk of the "four 16-team super conference" blueprint. Already a flawed idea, given the political and geographical obstacles involved, the "4 by 16" concept becomes virtually extinct if the Big XII solidifies its foundation with 12 teams and an inclusive conference network (bye-bye, Longhorn Network). At that point, it's hard to envision any of the Power Five conferences being on shaky enough ground to where they could potentially dissolve in a "4 by 16" scenario.

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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