Houston We Have a Problem

Houston we may have a problem – or not.  The Cougars attempt to gerrymander their way into the Big 12 is either a sure thing – or not.

Sounds fishy – almost like a conspiracy to either sneak Houston into the Big 12 or blackball them.

Maybe it’s both.

At the center of the conspiracy is the chairman of the Houston Board of Regents (and billionaire) Tillman Fertitta. His co-conspirator: none other than Baylor President and member of the Big 12 composition committee Ken Starr.

Fertitta and Starr reasoned their influence would persuade the Texas legislature and governor Greg Abbot to pressure the Dallas based Big 12 to add Houston.

Their pitch is simple – adding Houston would be as beneficial to the Big 12 as it would be for the Cougars.  They reasoned that UH would bolster the Big 12’s presence in the  nation’s 10th largest media market and curtail Texas A&M’s intrusion into  what has been a fertile recruiting  ground for the Big 12.

Starr also theorized that adding a fifth Texas school  would forever bind the Longhorns to the Big 12.

He may be right, with the wealth and well-being of four Texas schools tied to the Big 12 would the Longhorns ever be allowed to leave?

Consider the impact to Baylor, Texas Tech and TCU should the Longhorns bolt.

That’s the theory anyway. If the Longhorns ever wanted to leave the Big 12 they would have the state government applying the brakes to any UT exit strategy.

So pencil the University of Houston in as the 11th member of the Big 12.

Or not…

Despite Tillman Fertitta’s machinations – Despite the support of  Ken Starr and despite the composition committee’s decision to recommend the University of Houston and the University of Cincinnati for membership one insurmountable barrier to Big 12 expansion remains.

The Big 12 doesn’t want to expand.

And they certainly don’t want to expand by adding Houston.

Texas and Texas Tech are opposed to Houston. As is West Virginia, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU & Iowa State.

They could all live with Cincinnati if the Bearcats were paired say with Memphis, but not Houston.

Texas seems to have issues with the Cougars – deep seated issues from the days when both were members of the South West Conference. TCU and Texas Tech simply don’t want another P5 school in Texas competing for in-state recruits. West Virginia just doesn’t want another long road trip out west.

Whatever the reasons Houston doesn’t have the votes necessary for admission and they can’t expect Texas to help.

The Longhorns have ceded their  leadership role in the Big 12 to Oklahoma.  UT’s president, Greg Fenves, is reportedly disinterested in sports and their interim AD, Mike Perrin, seems to be to busy dealing with the mess left behind by Steve Patterson to concern himself with Big 12 issues.

Fenves and Perrin are not about to campaign for Houston nor  are they willing to make the concessions necessary to win the Cougars the votes they need.

As for the political pressure Fertitta and Starr are counting on to wrangle Houston into the Big 12 – don’t count on it.

A high ranking member of Texas governor Greg Abbott’s staff told me Tuesday night that Abbott would not get involved and that lieutenant governor Dan Patrick lacked the clout to make a difference for UH.

He was rather adamant that the potential backlash from the legions of influential Longhorn alumni ensures the governor and the state legislature will not interfere.

Those who support Houston’s bid for the  Big 12 say the exact opposite. They say both Abbott and Patrick have agreed to forcefully support Houston’s Big 12 membership bid.

Back room deals and denials are part of expansion and the truth is always elusive – in this case particularly so.  Those who will talk do so only reluctantly or they talk very loudly and with an obvious agenda.

Yet there is a constant theme echoed by nearly everyone I’ve contacted: Houston isn’t a very attractive option to the majority of the Big 12.

I’ve been given many reasons why the Cougars are not a good fit. Their stadium is new but very small. The rest of their athletic facilities are reportedly subpar. Attendance is poor and they struggle with TV ratings and media coverage.

Houston’s detractors  point to Tom Herman’s rant about the lack of coverage of Cougar football in Houston’s local media and point out that the last thing the Big 12 needs is another Texas school. The point is well made. The Big 12 is covered by the Houston media – more so than the University of Houston.

But Houston’s biggest problem is the dismissive attitude (hostility) of Longhorn alumni and boosters towards the Cougars.

One media contact who covers the Longhorns and Big 12 told me that “Every UT graduate and booster will have to be dead, buried and turned to dust before the University of Texas allows Houston into the Big 12.”

With sentiment like that it’s not hard to understand why  Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick may have second thoughts about using their influence to shoehorn Houston into the Big 12.

Sources within the Big 12 say the conference will not expand unless they absolutely have no other choice. They say that given their current options the Big 12 would rather host a championship game with 10 members than expand.

They hint the Big 12 could change their stance on expansion if Memphis or BYU were partnered with Cincinnati instead of Houston.

It’s not difficult to read between the lines. If the choice is to risk future playoff appearances or expand and be forced to take Houston the Big 12 would rather stick with 10 and risk a rematch in the conference championship game.

That alone might tells us all we need to know about Houston’s chances.

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