Max Olson of The Athletic reported today that the Big 12 is discussing expansion, and if it expands, the league adding four teams. Those four are BYU, Cincinnati, UCF and Houston.
Three of those make complete sense to me. Olson’s prior reporting (he’s the most plugged-in Big 12 expansion guy; take his reporting to the bank) is that BYU would have added value in 2016. Without Texas’ opposition to BYU’s honor code, there’s no reason to exclude the Cougars. Cincinnati and UCF are additional large markets—even if that’s not as big of a factor now—and have quality football programs.
My concern remains with Houston. I’ll likely do a deep-dive on this, but Houston means another power conference Texas school. If the Big 12 collapses in 2035, Houston is elevated. The other schools that recruit Texas have to deal with another stronger competitor too. And the Big 12 already has a decent Texas presence.
Houston has better arguments for inclusion than it did when the league didn’t expand in 2016. And if adding Houston ensures the eight remainders sign a new grant of rights (GOR), then it makes sense to take the Cougars. So if Kansas and West Virginia will agree to a new GOR with Houston—but would not without the Cougars—then the differential weighs in favor of adding Houston.
When this will happen remains a mystery. The eight remainders still would prefer to get an invite to one of the other power leagues. If the PAC-12 suddenly decided to expand in 2024, then any of the eight remainders would regret reupping in the Big 12. Same for the Big 10 with KU or ISU (though I think the Big 10 won’t take the Cyclones) or the ACC with anyone in the Big 12.
Ultimately the Big 12 surviving, in some form, is a much better outcome than having to join the American or another non-power league. That determination may cause the eight left to say, “Let’s stick together now instead of risking that we’re one of the schools left behind if the other leagues don’t want us.” The new league doesn’t look as good on paper as the last iteration of the Big 12, but if they played the games on paper, Texas would brag about more than how much paper it makes.