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Baylor Should Oppose Houston’s Big 12 Bid

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NCAA Football: Southern Methodist at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Houston’s Big 12 bid has gained momentum with several big names voicing support. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick announced they wanted Houston in the Big 12. Then the Texas president and Texas Tech president announced their support.

Per Big 12 bylaws, a team must receive eight votes to join the Big 12. If Houston already has two programs voting for them, then Houston needs to secure six of the remaining eight votes.

Although expansion involves a number of variables, expansion boils down to two main issues. First, would adding a particular team make the Big 12 more money until the grant of rights expires at the end of the 2024-2025 season? Second, would adding a team make the Big 12 more likely to survive after the grant of rights expires?

Given that Houston’s entry into the conference would cause a number of problems for Baylor, unless Baylor overwhelmingly feels like Houston is better than another prospective member in generating more money now or keeping the conference together after the 2024-2025 season, the Bears should oppose Houston’s entry.

There is no evidence Houston makes the Big 12 more money now

One big reason the Big 12 seems certain to expand is because it can make existing members more money. Dennis Dodd of CBS explained that expansion involves what is known as a pro rata increase for the Big 12 contract. Even if the league goes to 14 teams the pro rata increase remains. If the Big 12 adds four new members, rather than Fox and ESPN saying the new member is obviously weaker than others and we’re not going to give the same payout, the networks have to pay the same amount of adjusted money. So if the Big 12 pays out $230 million now, or $23 million per school, the new schools would also receive a new $23 million payout. If you add four schools, the total comes to $92 million a season(the math isn’t quite this hard and fast- payments for other sports and NCAA Tournament games are divided 14 ways instead of 10, and the T.V. money fluctuates).

The reason the Big 12’s existing members like that $92 million figure is because they want to take some of that money. Clay Travis of Fox Sports noted the Big 12 is trying to generate revenue by having schools agree to accept less than their full amount. If a school makes $10 million in the American, then they might take $10 million in the Big 12, especially with all the benefits that go with Big 12 membership. In that case, the Big 12 could look at upwards of $50 million to divide between existing members. If this is what matters- and it does not exclusively, but it does to a degree- then the Big 12’s focus in expansion is about which school will accept the least amount of money when it becomes a member.

Houston has not shown they will take less money than another institution. But for the sake of argument, let’s say Houston will take $5 million less a season than any other expansion candidate. $5 million divided by 10 is $500,000. In the college sports landscape, $500,000 is not nearly enough to warrant Houston with the consequences their admission could have on Baylor’s success.

Houston does not make the Big 12 more likely to survive

Houston is not comparatively more likely to save the Big 12 than other institutions. Houston has a few advantages: Houston market, large enrollment, and quality football and improving basketball. But those advantages are overstated, at least as it comes to expansion.

When someone from Houston says they are in a giant market, they rely on a few assumptions that make it irrelevant for expansion. First, Houston does not capture their own city. Nate Silver has a nice breakdown of this concept as it relates to the N.H.L. While having a large city is normally a bonus because more people in a city means more people watch, that’s not true if the people in the city are not fans of the team or sport. In the N.H.L. context, Kansas City is one of the larger expansion options, however, Kansas City is one of the least interested cities in the U.S. when it comes to hockey. Houston faces a similar problem with their own city as it relates to claiming they have the Houston market. Many Houston residents are Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech, or other fans. While Houston has a large market to draw from, they do not have great evidence they dominate their own market. They are certainly an improving program and not a terrible choice, but acting like they dominate a large metro area is a stretch.

Second, Houston is already captured if the Big 12 adds a network. The problem with having a geographically homogeneous league is that cable networks will already offer the league in that market. Although Houston fans may not want a Big 12 Network if the Cougars are not included, a ton of people in Houston will want to watch the other Texas schools. Those people will end up paying for a network they don’t want. And that’s the problem with the Houston market: there are diminishing returns on adding a school from that city when you already have four institutions well represented.

Houston has a large enrollment, but so do several other prospective schools. UCF has 60,000 students. B.Y.U. has 30,000. Cincinatti has 43,000. Connecticut has 31,000. It’s also unclear why a giant enrollment matters. The hope might be alumni watching the team, but as mentioned above, those alumni are often in places other Big 12 fans are, which captures the market.

Houston does have strong athletic programs. Tom Herman has been outstanding, and the Cougars have survived losing Briles and Sumlin, which offers hope that even if Herman left, they would be a strong team going forward. Kelvin Samspson is also the head coach at Houston. He did extremely well at Oklahoma and his time as the lead assistant for the Rockets was lauded by many. He’ll likely build a strong program, and he’ll have an even stronger one in the Big 12.

But so many other targets have strong programs too. Memphis had a nice football season and basketball program. U.C.F. won the Fiesta Bowl in 2014. Connecticut was in a B.C.S. game not too long ago, and they are dominant in basketball. B.Y.U. has consistently been good in both football and basketball. Cincinnati has as well.

Houston’s entrance would harm Baylor

The previous sections do not advance the argument Houston is a weak program or would be a weak addition. Rather, the argument is that Houston is not comparatively that much of an advantage over the other schools. From West Virginia’s perspective, Houston seems like a slam-dunk addition. The problem for Houston, at least from Baylor’s perspective, is that the benefit of adding them to the conference compared to other members is not that high. While adding Houston would entail many disadvantages for Baylor.

Houston would be a much stronger player in recruiting. If Houston joins the Big 12, telling kids they’ll play Big 12 schools and have a much better shot at the national championship is an easier recruiting pitch than telling them they can still make the playoff some years if they go 12-0. Some have argued Houston would make it easier for someone to stay in Texas, which helps all the Big 12 schools. This doesn’t make sense. Adding a fifth Texas school to the Big 12, and a sixth power-five Texas school, does not seem in any rational universe to create some kind of Texas pride coalition that does not exist with four in the Big 12 and five in P-5 conferences. Rather, it just boosts another school to take recruits from Baylor. That additional school is close to Baylor and a pocket of elite talent.

Adding Houston cold also hurt Baylor if the Big 12 explodes. If Houston joins a power five conference and does well, then the Bears could be left scrambling and competing against a much stronger Houston in the next wave of realignment. Houston is a larger school and is in a larger market. Baylor is a better academic institution(Houston is a good school too), but I’ve long thought these academic conference arguments are nonsense. Conferences exist to play sports. Stanford will not stop being a top 15 school if a school outside the U.S. News top 150 joins the PAC-12. The Big 10 ranted about top public schools for why they couldn’t add Nebraska, then they added them, and somehow students and faculty still respect Big 10 schools (I also think the idea Nebraska or some of these schools aren’t good enough academically is ridiculous). Maybe the odds Houston is the school that leaves Baylor out of the next wave of realignment are low, but the consequences of being left out are so high, that it would not be worthwhile to boost Houston.

Houston is an attractive expansion target for a number of reasons. Those reasons make Houston a huge threat to Baylor, if they join the Big 12. Baylor should not elevate a strong program in Texas, or make it less likely the Bears find a home in the next round of realignment. Baylor should vote against Houston’s Big 12 bid.