clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The strange relationship between Texas, the Big XII and Houston, explained

When politics and football combine in the Lone Star State, it gets sorta prickly.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In recent days, the Big XII has announced that the board of directors approved "exploring expansion options" and that they will hear all offers.

This was a rather surprising development, considering one of the factors that prevented the Big XII from making such an announcement was Texas' steadfast refusal to consider such a measure. The university has since backtracked on the decision and actually embrace the move with welcome arms.

But only on one condition: that Houston be one of the expansion candidates.

That move came down on Thursday night when Gov. Greg Abbot said any Big XII move that doesn't include Houston is "a non-starter" in a tweet. Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick was a little more aggressive saying there would be "NO DEAL!" if Houston wasn't included in a Tweet of his own later that afternoon.

UT President Greg Fenves had perhaps the most interesting comment on the matter, saying UH was "a huge asset to Texas."

That statement could be in reference to the university's recent decision to purchase land right in UH's backyard for a "intellectual hub" meant to "[focus] on ways to increase research funding and educational opportunities in emerging fields." The project, part of a 300 acre property just outside of NRG Stadium, was estimated to cost approximately $65 million.

UH expressed their opposition to the project, seeing it as an encroachment and counter to Texas' higher education framework. This is where it gets interesting.

One donor in particular, billionaire Tilman Fertitta, has been the center of attention in the whole ordeal. Fertitta, a UH chairman, called UT's expansion project "the most asinine thing I've ever seen" in November 2015, just a month before UT regents approved the purchase of the property.

However, Fertitta also donated $250,000 to Gov. Abbot's re-election in 2014, a move that could be seen as a form of lobbying to get Gov. Abbot to place pressure upon UT to accept expanding the Big XII to include UH. Gov. Abbot's list also included many current and former UT board members and boosters, which shows Gov. Abbot does have some sort of influence.

Fertitta's been extremely outspoken about UH's inclusion in a newly-configured Big XII, making his case to CBS Sports that the Texas schools (Texas, Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor) were "too scared" to include Houston despite the geographic and recruiting advantages it could offer.

Looking at the situation through that prism, it is easy to see why Texas relented. Internal pressure, combined with external realities for the current health of the conference, probably got the vote to flip.

Texas can essentially blackmail Houston; allow us to build this campus near your property and we'll "consider" voting for you to enter the Big XII. It's a shrewd move, really.

Ultimately, a key factor to remember for the strange relationship between the Texas schools is to look at the last time the Big XII expanded. The conference is slow to change, and was forced to consider options after Texas A&M and Mizzou left for the greener pastures of the SEC. Colorado and Nebraska had left in previous years, making it tough to attract new schools.

The Big XII extended an invitation to TCU and West Virginia to join and stayed pat at 10 members. TCU, an old rival of many of the Texas school from their Southwest Conference days, was not in the conversation for induction into the Big XII for decades after the SWC's collapse, until the departure of Nebraska made expansion necessary. Thanfully for TCU, they were nationally relevant in a strong Moutain West Conference at the time.

Houston right now finds itself in a similar situation to the one TCU was in. UH has been mired in the lower levels for the last couple decades and have been able to make the right moves at the right time to place themselves in a position of relevance in order to capture the interest of their "bigger" peers.

Houston is easily one of the best non-P5 schools in the country and has hot coaching prospect Tom Hermann, an Urban Meyer apprentice, at the helm. It would make logical sense for the Big XII to want a program of Houston's caliber.

Texas in particular was seen as fiercely opposed to any expansion move and especially a Texas-based move, as they had the Longhorn Network to worry about, and any potential TV deal would cut into potential profits. Now, it seems as if TV profits are being set aside for on-field performance, which is rare in this day and age.

Now that Texas realizes expansion will probably be inevitable, it could become reality sooner rather than later, and that will most likely be a definitive boon to the Coogs.