The expansion of the Big East has been a long-expected announcement, especially seeing as how several members of the conference are on the verge of departure. And one of the long-rumored names of this expansion has been the University of Houston.
The expansion finally became official on Wednesday afternoon with the announcement from the Big East that Houston, SMU, the University of Central Florida, Boise State and San Diego State were joining the conference in one form or the other. The Cougars, Mustangs and Knights will be full-time members while Boise State and San Diego State, as expected, will only join the conference for the purposes of football.
As with the Intergalactic Planetary Super Conference better known as the soon to come C-USA/Mountain West Conference, there are still a lot of details that need to be figured out before the new Big East comes into play for the 2013-14 academic year. Details like the actual number of teams in the conference (the conference is currently fighting with West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse on just when they can leave and whether more schools will be joining the conference). Details like who will play in which division.
And let's not even discuss what's going to happen when basketball gets under way since there are several Big East schools that either do not play Division One football (Georgetown, St. John's, etc.) or, like Notre Dame, are independent when it comes to football.
Big East Commissioner John Marinatto calls this expansion part of the conference's continued evolution from one of a basketball conference centered in the northeast United States to a major football conference spanning the entire continent and four time zones. The conference still lacks the football powers of the SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac 12, but the additions of Boise State and Houston will help to keep it relevant.
"As we discussed the idea of football specifically with our consultants, we've envisioned the premise that we could theoretically on any given Saturday have four kickoffs that don't compete with each other," Marinatto said Wednesday. "We think, as I mentioned earlier, that's a very powerful model as we move forward in our upcoming TV negotiations, initially with ESPN eight months from now, because it provides something that no other conference in the country can represent. So we're excited about that prospect.
"We've been in the past on the cutting edge of doing things that no one has ever done before and we believe that this is just another example of what will follow once we've established the premise."
But the important question is what does this mean to the University of Houston? Competition-wise, it means that the Cougars will be facing some competition superior to what they've been seeing in C-USA. Boise State is a national power, Cincinnati's a program that has been to BCS bowls. And the Big East brings with it, for at least the 2013 season, an automatic BCS bowl bid to the conference winner.
The Cougars will get better TV coverage as the Big East gets major TV money, and that means the Cougars will get much more money from the TV deals. And if you're a basketball fan, you should be thrilled as the Big East contains multiple basketball powers that will visit Hofheinz Pavilion on a yearly basis while the Cougars attempt to make the Big East tourney that is played in Madison Square Garden, one of the meccas of the sport.
"Our vision is to be a nationally competitive university in every field: research, student success and athletics," UH President Renu Khator said. "This affiliation gives us an opportunity to play in a nationally competitive environment and to show our talents on a national stage. This is a game-changer for us and I know everybody here is very excited."
The Cougars might have lost to Southern Miss last week, costing themselves an opportunity for a BCS Bowl, but the future is beginning to look better. There's a new conference coming, and it's expected that the details behind the replacement for Robertson Stadium will be announced later today. So buy your tickets to the TicketCity Bowl and prepare for the times to come.
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A MISCELLANEOUS NOTE: It's been one week since Kevin Sumlin was supposed to be on the verge of being the head coach of Arizona State. He was supposed to be hired by the Texas Aggies on Sunday afternoon. UCLA supposedly met with him on Sunday. He was supposed to have announced his resignation during a specially called team meeting on Wednesday. Yet it's Friday, and he's still the head coach of the Cougars.
I don't know what's been more entertaining during this week. Reading the Cougar message boards and watching the alumni melt down and break out words like traitor. Listening to 790's Matt Jackson throw hissy fits because Sumlin won't answer questions the way he wants him to. Or just watching many of my fellow media members seemingly throw rumors against the wall in hopes that something sticks (readers, take a hint, if it doesn't come from Mark Berman it's probably not true).
It's my belief that Sumlin will be leaving for another job. I can't blame him for this. Despite moving to a new conference, despite promised improvements to the athletic facilities, UH is still not a destination job. It's a jumping-off job. One a coach takes to prove his abilities before moving onward and upward. Art Briles left. Kevin Sumlin will leave. The coach who replaces him will eventually leave for something better.
That's just the way things are for now. But give it awhile. With the new conference, the bigger TV exposure, the better access to recruits, things will change. It's just going to take awhile.