Two weeks ago the words “expansion” and “Big 12” were mentioned in the same conversation. That conversation being one started by Oklahoma president David Boren. He said the conference should strive for 12 teams, and stated that the conference continuing on with just ten teams could destroy it. And while he wasn’t pushing for expansion at right this moment, it is a long-term concern.
“I’m an advocate of a 12-member Big 12. I’m an advocate of us living up to our name,” Boren told the media. “That doesn’t mean go out and find anybody. You’ve got to be very careful about it…I think we should scientifically — not emotionally, but scientifically — look at that.”
Boren further continued that not just any team should be invited to join the conference, when and if expansion occurs. It’s important for the Big 12 to find the right partner. A partner that grows the conference and helps to put it back on the same level as the SEC, PAC 12 or Big 10.
“If you pick the right partners, it’s not a stretch at all to think that the pie’s going to grow even more because of the right partners — media markets, fan base, other factors you have to consider,” Boren said. “We would be better off financially and I think we’ll certainly be better off in terms of our survival, in terms of our being one of the five big conferences in terms of equal treatment with the playoff system.”
So maybe the conference waits for the ACC to further implode. Or hopes that Nebraska or A&M feel remorse and beg to return. And of course, whenever Big 12 expansion is mentioned, the ears of Houston Cougar fans perk to attention. But as Houston fans salivate over the thought of righting the wrong that kept the school from originally joining the Big 12, the following must be considered: Just what would UH bring to the Big 12 that it doesn’t already have, and how would UH grow the conference?
The odds of Nebraska or A&M or Missouri begging for the Big 12 to take them back are slight. And it’s doubtful that the ACC will dissolve into nothingness. So that leaves the smaller conferences, those minor ones that house schools like Houston. But the same conference that hosts UH is also the conference of Cincinnati and Memphis. Then there’s a program like BYU, which has flirted with joining a major conference in the past but always chosen to remain on its own.
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UH fans will tell you that the Cougars could deliver the Houston market to the Big 12. But Texas already delivers the Houston market to the Big 12, so UH adds nothing. And sure, TCU was brought into the Big 12 despite being in a market that’s already a big conference market, but TCU was a special situation: The conference was falling apart following the defections of A&M, Nebraska and Missouri, and TCU had also turned itself into a major college football player, earning invites to the big bowl games. The Cougars' progress on that major college football player part was ended with the departures of Case Keenum and Kevin Sumlin.
There’s also, at the moment, no guarantee that Houston can deliver a fanbase — the school continues to have trouble packing out the football stadium, and the less said about the failures of the basketball program to win games, pack the arena and get a new arena built the better. And those failures of the basketball program, which took an even bigger step back from national relevance after the departure of Tom Penders than the football program did, are just another reason the Coogs would probably be low on the invite list should the expansion happen now because while Texas might like the addition of another program that it can beat, it’s doubtful that Kansas would be too thrilled by the hit its RPI would take.
So here’s the thing, UH fans, Big 12 expansion’s not happening now, thus it’s still possible for the Cougars to put themselves on the must-invite list. But it’s going to take a lot of work. The football turnaround has to be quick, and the creampuffs must be dropped from the schedule. Most important, TDECU Stadium has to be sold out for every game — and not sold out because the visiting team’s a big name and its fans bought the tickets, but because UH fans are packing the stadium to the gills with lots and lots of red shirts. Kelvin Sampson must get the basketball program turned around, and fans have to start showing up again. Because no fans, no expansion, it’s just that simple.
It’s possible, Houston fans. Not right now, of course, but in the future. There’s just a lot of work that has to be done, and it has to be done quickly.