Big XII Expansion Big Concern For Houston

Typically on my Facebook timeline, wedged between the numerous posts about presidential candidates and National Anthem political stances are the self-help posts that remind us not to stress over issues beyond our control. Is this advice the #HTownTakeover crowd should adhere as they watch coach Tom Herman build a potential championship caliber football program?

UH seems well situated for a championship run in 2016. Undefeated and ranked sixth in the current Associated Press poll, fifth in the Amway Coaches poll, the Cougars appear to close to controlling their own destiny when it comes to a playoff bid at the conclusion of the regular season. If the Coogs can beat Louisville when the Cards come to Houston on November 17, the playoff committee would seemingly need four other undefeated teams in order to pass on the “non-Power Five” conference candidate.

In reality, a one-loss Alabama (or other SEC team), a one loss Big 10 champion (see Ohio State or Michigan), and perhaps a one loss Clemson would likely jump an undefeated Houston for a playoff slot. (But as those Facebook posts remind us, don’t vote for Hillary/Trump don’t stress over what you can’t control.)

The big picture concern for Houston fans is what happens after the season. It would seem that as long as Tom Herman is the head coach the Cougars will not only compete for an American Athletic Conference title each year, but continue to knock at the playoff door. Herman is widely regarded as the top head coach not running an “elite” Power Five football team. So is his career destiny set running a team that is essentially a kid at the Thanksgiving card table watching the parents argue about sex, religion and politics at the “big table?” Likely not.

In order for #HTownTakeover to continue its ascent, it will need to join a Power Five conference. The best opportunity for that to happen would be in the Big XII. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby discussed expansion multiple times this summer, however, recently the talk has turned to remaining a ten-member league.

There are multiple issues at stake, but primarily it comes down to money. As in, money from a conference TV network or increased revenue from current television partners ESPN and Fox. Therein lies the problem for Houston.

Bowlsby says current contracts with the two networks – which run through 2025 – call for the rights-holders to pay pro-rata current equal value to any new teams entering the Big XII. If the conference were to add four teams it could cost ESPN and Fox almost $1-billion per the current contract.

Neither network seems thrilled enough with the eleven finalist the conference is considering to fork over that kind of money. If the Big XII does expand ESPN and Fox would also like assurances that Texas and Oklahoma in particular would be prevented from leaving.

Under the current deal which has a “Grant of Rights” clause, member schools have no interest in leaving. The reason is that under the grant of rights clause, if a school leave before the end of the media rights agreement, the conference retains the TV rights for football and basketball. The SEC is the only conference without a grant of rights waiver. A waiver Texas and Oklahoma are not willing to extend beyond the current contract.

According to Bowlsby one option currently under consideration is for the two networks to pay the conference not to expand.

With no financial incentive to expand, and a possible incentive not to expand, where does that leave Houston? Likely where they are right now, on the outside looking in.

And that is not a good place to be when your brilliant head coach is the most saught after man in college football. Reports are that LSU officials have already reached out to Herman’s agent Trace Armstrong, though Herman has denied those reports. Speculation is that Texas leaked to the media its dissatisfaction with Charlie Strong to ensure Herman knew there was a offer headed his way before he made any decisions about the opening at LSU or anywhere else.

According to Fox Sports Bruce Feldman, “I think it’s close to a guarantee if Charlie Strong is not the head coach that Texas will go get Tom Herman.”

Great news for Longhorn fans, the worst nightmare for #HTownTakeover.