Thursday, November 04, 2010

Big East to expand; could UH be a target?

Even as we find ourselves in the middle of another college football season, discussion about the sport's future landscape continues. Last Monday, New York Daily News sportswriter Lenn Robbins reported that Big East presidents and athletics directors were holding a meeting on Tuesday to discuss possible expansion of their league, which currently consists of eight all-sports (i.e. FBS football) members and 16 total members:
The regularly-scheduled meeting of the presidents and athletic directors figures to be intense as the BCS-football playing members of the league intend on pressing their agenda to add teams to the eight-team football conference.

"The goal is to get the presidents' blessing to seriously pursue teams," said one Big East athletic director. "I don't think we're going to get pushback on that."

Several sources confirmed a Post report last month that TCU is a strong candidate. Houston, Central Florida, Temple and/or Villanova, which is in the midst of evaluating a move up from FCS, are other lead candidates.
Following this meeting on Tuesday, the Big East put out an announcement that, indeed, they were considering adding two football-playing members to their lineup. The Chronicle's Steve Campbell further analyzed the situation:
So is UH on the cusp of becoming a member of a Bowl Championship Series automatic qualifying league? Is it time for high-fiving on Cullen Blvd.? Not so fast.

The Big East board of directors announced Tuesday that the 16-member league will attempt to increase its Football Bowl Subdivision-playing contingent from eight teams to 10. The league did not clarify how Villanova, which is ranked No. 3 in the Football Championship Subdivision, fits into the equation.

Among the schools that have been on the Big East's radar are UH, UCF, East Carolina, Memphis and Temple. If Villanova is ready, willing and able to make a commitment to playing big-time football, then that leaves room for only one other school. If Villanova isn't ready to make that kind of commitment, then that would leave two seats at the Big East table. TCU (No. 3 in the BCS standings) is considered a shoo-in for one invitation. Assuming there is a second spot there for the taking, then the Big East would be sifting through the likes of UH, UCF, East Carolina, Memphis and Temple.

Needless to say, discussion and speculation on various UH sports message boards related to this announcement quickly drowned out any discussion of tomorrow night's important nationally-televised home game against Central Florida. How realistic are Houston's chances of being one of the two teams chosen for the Big East's expansion? Is this all the expansion the Big East is considering, or is this merely an interim step towards increasing the conference's football membership to twelve schools (the minimum number required for a conference championship game)? If so, could Houston be in the running for a future spot in the Big East if they don't get picked now? If these additions are for football only, in what conference will the Cougars play their other sports, such as basketball, and would the UH administration even consider accepting an invitation for football only?

The Cougars would definitely like to be included in the ranks of the Bowl Champion Series Automatic Qualifying teams (i.e., the "haves"), they are located in a large media market and recruiting hotbed, Houston would serve as a good travel partner for TCU if they are indeed at the top of the Big East's list, and membership in the Big East does make sense on many levels for Houston: it is a conference consisting largely of urban schools similar to Houston, many of which - Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida - used to be the Cougars' conference-mates in CUSA. However, there are also issues that could work against the Coogs, such as facilities and fan support (although plans are in place for a new stadium and attendance for football is clearly improving) as well as simple geography. Furthermore, would football-only membership be in the UH athletics program's overall best interests? And what happens if the Cougars join the Big East, only to watch as current Big East schools like Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rutgers or West Virginia are later pilfered by the Big 10 or the ACC?

I've long since given up trying to make any sense out of conference realignment. So while I am skeptical that the University of Houston will be one of the two schools invited to join the Big East in the short term, anything is certainly possible. If for some reason the Coogs do get an invite, however, I think the administration would be foolish not to accept it. If the goal is to become a member of a BCS-AQ conference and all the priveleges in income and prestige that entails, then this is an easy way of reaching that goal.

Regardless of what happens, the University of Houston needs to continue doing what it's doing. It needs to continue its positive trends in terms of attendance, it needs to take the next step towards a new stadium by unveiling a funding plan, and the team needs to continue putting together winning seasons. While this season has been a disappointment due to a rash of injuries (notably, Case Keenum's) as well as a defense that has shown little improvement over last season, a winning record and a bowl appearance is still salvagable at this point. Tough though it may be, a win tomorrow night over a Central Florida team that is also on the Big East's list of possible candidates would be huge in more ways than one.

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