So, for now, the eight remaining Big 12 members want to hold it together. But they probably need some help. What about the Houston Cougars?
When the Big 12 Conference explored expansion a few year ago, the Cougars were one of the programs that the league considered. Now, as they try to plot a future, is it time to reach back into the past and grab the Cougars?
The past, of course, is that Houston used to be in the Southwest Conference with current Big 12 members Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech (yes, I know Texas is STILL a member of the Big 12, but we all know what’s going down). The Bears, the Horned Frogs and the Red Raiders probably wouldn’t mind a reunion with their former conference mate.
On the Field
When the Southwest Conference broke up, the Cougars were one of the schools left out in the cold. After the SWC broke up, the Cougars drifted over to Conference USA for nearly 20 years before joining the American Athletic Conference.
Of late, the Cougars claimed the 2015 AAC title under a coach you may have heard of, former Texas boss Tom Herman. Lately, the Cougars have been a middling program, but their new coach is familiar — former West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen.
Media Market Attractiveness
Moving leagues would be attractive for Houston. As I noted in my piece about Cincinnati’s Big 12 prospects, the AAC has a TV deal with ESPN, but it yields a less than $8 million per year payout for each member. We know a reconfigured Big 12 will take a dip in TV money — it could be as much as half, per a report in the Athletic — but that’s where the Cougars can help.
No AAC program brings eyeballs and TV sets like Houston, even though it would be hard to describe Space City as a ‘college town.’ But, the Houston TV market is No. 8 in the county, per Nielsen. Houston has more than 2.3 million people, the fourth-most in the country, and the metro area has more than 7 million people. That could add some heft to television negotiations.
Houston Has Spent
The Cougars have also poured money into facilities. The Cougars have a new football stadium and recently remodeled their basketball arena. The Cougar basketball team is coming off a Final Four appearance and is led ANOTHER familiar face, former Oklahoma boss Kelvin Sampson. Plus, Houston’s track and field program is nationally-renowned.
Adding the Cougars would mean adding a program committed to keeping up its facilities and give the conference two of the Top 10 media markets in the nation, something it doesn’t have now. You’d rather have Texas and OU, of course, but in lieu of that the media market can make a little difference. Plus, there’s the geography. The Cougars fit right into the current footprint.
If the Big 12 decides to expand, the league will likely look to the AAC first. Houston is probably the closest thing to a ‘slam dunk,’ when you put together the facilities, leadership, media market and geography. And, while some Big 12 teams (well, probably just one team) were reticent to let the Cougars join a few years ago, that likely won’t be a problem in expansion.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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