Back in June, the only Big 12 administrator with a hard-and-fast public opinion on league expansion was Texas men’s athletic director Mike Perrin. In response to questions about enlarging the 10-member league during the league’s spring meetings, Perrin said: “The prudent thing to do is stay where we are.”
Six weeks later, the tune has changed in Austin. Texas president Greg Fenves, along with UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven, weighed in Thursday with their public support for Houston’s candidacy as a Big 12 expansion member on their respective Twitter accounts. Fenves wrote: “I support considering @Houston for the conference. UH is a big asset for Texas.” McRaven wrote: “@UHouston would be welcome addition to the Big XII!”
What changed? The Austin American-Statesman offered interesting insight with a story suggesting Houston administrators have indicated they would drop opposition to the construction of a UT satellite campus on 332 acres of land the UT system owns in Houston in exchange for help in getting into the Big 12. It’s an interesting premise supported in some circles, although key individuals from both schools insist the issues are mutually exclusive.
With only one vote to cast, Texas cannot prevent Houston’s candidacy from being scuttled by three “no” votes if discussions reach that point. At this juncture, it’s too early to characterize any candidate as a slam dunk for future membership although the growing consensus suggests the early steam is pushing Houston, Brigham Young, Cincinnati and Connecticut to the front of the line.
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But not far behind, and still within closing range, are Central Florida, Memphis, Colorado State and others. What seems to have finally turned Texas’ head, as well as the heads of other Big 12 administrators, is a presentation from consultants showing that expansion enhances the Big 12’s odds of being a regular participant in the College Football Playoff and the realization that that the league needs more inventory to maximize future TV deals when existing contracts expire after the 2024-25 school year.
Analysts from Navigate Research have shown Big 12 administrators that, with expansion, their research indicates the league’s probability of placing at least one team in the CFP playoff pool jumps to 77 percent each year. The league currently has a .500 batting average after two seasons.
In addition, the Big 12 has 75 regular-season football telecasts to offer to its TV partners each year as a 10-member league. The total jumps to 90 telecasts with 12 teams and 105 with 14 teams. The larger the inventory, the higher the future payday if the league adds four teams that can enhance the brand when it is time to renegotiate new deals.
If not, Texas and Oklahoma may be looking for greener pastures at the end of the 2024-25 season. But that is tomorrow’s issue. And such thoughts could be thwarted if the Big 12 adds the right mix of teams today.
Having Texas fully on board with expansion, after years of resistance, is an essential first step in that direction.