(Jan Hubbard has been one of those great Texas sports writers for more than 40 years. Jan began writing sports for the Fort Worth Press in 1975 and has since worked at newspapers in the Dallas area and New York, including the Dallas Morning News and Newsday. As a beat writer, he spent most of his career covering the NBA but has covered the Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers and college football. He also spent eight years working for the NBA league office in New York. He has written three books on the NBA and was the editor of the last Official NBA Encyclopedia that was published by the league. He currently is a free lance writer based in Dallas and will contribute regularly on woodypaige.com, writing about the Big 12 Conference, the Dallas Cowboys and any other subject he sees fit to opine about.)
By Jan Hubbard
Let’s say a guy is dating a woman and he has higher aspirations. She has sent signals that she would favorably entertain a marriage proposal but he wants to do something dramatic that she would find endearing.
So he beats up her father.
That’s the sort of logic employed by the Houston Cougars, their fan base and a number of media deep thinkers after Houston’s 33-23 victory over Oklahoma last week. UH President Dr. Renu Khator even said the “case is made” for Houston deserving to join the Big 12 because of the victory.
Let’s review the soap opera that the Big 12 has become: After being shut out in the first year of the College Football Playoffs, the Big 12 managed an invite last year. Its representative was Oklahoma, which lost to Alabama in the national semifinals.
The Sooners entered this season as the No. 3 team in the country but after losing to the Cougars, they will be a long shot to make the playoffs again. Oklahoma has a non-conference game next week at home against Ohio State and then has the nine-game conference schedule that includes games at TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia.
The Sooners will not make the playoffs with two losses so they’ll need 11 consecutive victories to qualify. If they manage that, what happens if Houston breezes through its less challenging schedule, but still manages to finish the season undefeated? What if the final spot comes down to OU and Houston? Doesn’t Houston get the tiebreaker?
So let’s say Houston gets the bid and prevents the Big 12 from that $6 million payment a conference gets for having a team in the playoffs. That makes Houston more attractive?
This is a conference that nearly folded six years ago. This is a conference that perhaps is the most disrespected of the Power 5 conferences.
Think about it. The Big 12 has lost teams to the Big Ten (Nebraska), SEC (Texas A&M and Missouri) and the Pac-12 (Colorado). Each of those conferences has lost no teams to any other conference.
The SEC, Big Ten and ACC each have 14 members. The Pac-12 – the only conference that sees a connection between its name and the number of teams in the league – has 12.
The Big 12 has had 10 schools since 2011. After that season, A&M and Missouri left and were replaced by TCU and West Virginia, so the league is now in its sixth season with 10 members.
The Big 12 did not make the first College Football Playoff, but did make the second. So what do league fathers do? They hire a consulting firm, which says despite making it with 10 teams, the league would have a better chance in the future with 12 teams and a conference championship game.
Ten works but 12 is better . . . so why not?
Which, as it turns out, could be great for Houston.
But with the Big 12, you never know. To find the ideal two new members, the Big 12 has considered about 20 schools including Arkansas State, East Carolina, New Mexico, Northern Illinois and Rice. No Nebraskas or A&Ms in that group.
Personally, I would love to see SMU, my alma mater, in the league. I grew up during the glory days of the Southwest Conference and although it had only regional appeal, it was in my region and that made it appealing.
But SMU averages about 21,000 fans in its 32,000-seat stadium. That simply does not add a lot of value to the Big 12 so it’s not going to happen.
Other schools have different sorts of negatives. BYU would seem to be a given with an excellent football history and average attendance of almost 60,000 a game. But the school has been criticized by activist groups who say BYU’s honor code does not offer protection for LGBT students. The Mormon school also does not allow athletic contests on Sundays, which presents scheduling problems for basketball, baseball and other sports.
One school that has been championed by some is Central Florida, but the reasoning is shaky at best. UCF is one of the largest schools in the country with more than 60,000 students. But since UCF averages only about 30,000 fans per game in football, you have to wonder about student support. And if student body size is a criteria, then why not Texas State, which used to be Texas State-San Marcos and before that Southwest Texas State? With about 37,000 undergraduates, it has a larger student body than Alabama, Missouri or Georgia.
The other attraction of Central Florida is supposedly it would help Big 12 recruiting in Florida. That is silly. The great Florida players are still going to go to Miami, Florida State and Florida and if they leave the state, places like Alabama, Auburn, Clemson and Georgia will be preferred destinations. UCF and the Big 12 might have access to a lot of two-star Florida players, but not a large segment of Florida’s most talented players.
With BYU’s negatives and such a weak list of expansion candidates, it’s no wonder that Houston and Cincinnati have emerged as frontrunners. The Cougars have also picked up endorsements from the Texas governor and lieutenant governor and the president of the University of Texas. And that was before they beat Oklahoma.
Several Big 12 schools have said publicly they do not want the Cougars in the conference because the Houston area is one of the best – if not the best – recruiting area in the country. If Houston is in a Power 5 conference, the four- and five-star athletes who want to compete for a national championship can stay home.
Ultimately, however, Houston has spent the money – like $128 million on rebuilding its on-campus stadium – necessary to make it a solid major college program. Better facilities, increased fan support and, yes, a team that went to a New Year’s bowl game and impressively defeated Florida State by two touchdowns should be enough for UH to get into the Big 12.
But supporters have it turned around. If the Cougars get the invite, it will not be because they defeated Oklahoma.
It will be in spite of it.