The Houston Cougars enjoyed their second straight win over a Top 10 opponent and their fourth straight win over a ranked opponent. It was their fifth win over a ranked opponent in six games. Every analytical measure says that the Cougars are playing as well as anyone in the country over their last six games. This has lead many fans and even more media members to conclude that Houston should be included in the Big 12’s plans to expand to 12 or 14 teams.
While doing my best Lee Corso impression, “Not so fast my friends”. I am not going to disparage Houston. That isn’t this kind of article. They are a good team who are playing well right now. However, just because they are playing well does not mean the Big 12 needs to invite them to join the league.
Big 12 Expansion
Big 12 Expansion
Houston Wins = More Losses
Conference expansion, in the end, is a zero-sum game. For every game that Houston wins in conference, someone else has to lose. ESPN projected Houston and BYU’s chances in the Big 12 should they join the conference for the 2016 season.
Both BYU and Houston were given West Virginia’s conference schedule ironically and asked “How would they fare in 2016?”. Houston was projected with a conference of 4-5.
If the Big 12 were to expand to 12 teams and keep the 9 game conference schedule, you are adding 4 losses to the conference. Now what happens when Houston begins to transform itself into a stronger team thanks to Big 12 money and recruits? That conference record may improve but at who’s expense?
Will Baylor, with the allegations of sexual misconduct and loss of major recruits now fall to the bottom of the Big 12 barrel? What about Texas Tech? Will the mid-level Red Raiders lose out on a couple of four- and five-star recruits to Houston, thereby dropping their overall talent level and dropping them from a 7/8 win team to a 5/6 win team?
In conference play, you can’t win without losing.
Texas, Oklahoma & 8 (or 10 others)
I don’t care who you are in this conference, the Big 12 is driven by Texas and Oklahoma. Since WVU joined the Big 12 in 2012, Texas has experienced four straight years of diminished returns, yet when the talks come to expansion, Texas drives the ship. The Longhorn Network has been a thorn in the side of the Big 12’s dreams of a conference network. When talks began about real expansion, Texas immediately threw its money and weight behind Houston. Soon other teams were joining in and it was assumed Houston will get in because “Texas”.
Oklahoma, on the other hand, has been the top tier program for the conference since 2012. They’ve won at least 10 games three of the four years West Virginia has been a member. They played in the playoffs last year, representing the Big 12. Oklahoma has been the flagship program. When expansion talks began, everyone knew that any team would need both Texas’ and Oklahoma’s blessing to join the Big 12. When people talk about the instability of the Big 12, they always reference what Oklahoma will do. If Oklahoma decides to leave for greener pastures, the conference would dissolve quickly.
When it comes to the strength of the Big 12, Texas and Oklahoma are the ones everybody watches. When Texas and Oklahoma are elite, the conference is considered strong. When Texas and Oklahoma experience down years, the conference is considered wide open.
So What If....
Conference expansion is a zero sum game and Texas/Oklahoma are the big fish in the pond. Houston just proved it can play with the big boys and beat the big boys. What if Houston continues to experience success against Texas and Oklahoma while succombing to the brutal death march of the Big 12.
The conference has been one of the deepest conferences the last few years with the round-robin format and the number of quality teams. Last 4 years, the Big 12 has had 29 teams bowl eligible out of 40, or nearly 75% of its conference.
If Houston and another team come in, will the conference remain as deep. If it does, will you see a conference winner with 2 or 3 losses? It is possible, almost even probable. Great, this conference is the deepest in the league! That is absolutely a bad thing in terms of national relevance.
If you want to pound your chest and proclaim to the mighty internet gods that the Big 12 is the deepest in the land, have at it. When the rubber meets the road, as they say, the Big 12 has to be able to produce an elite team. When Alabama, Ohio State, or Florida/Clemson come calling in the post season, the Big 12 better have a team capable of matching up. Sending a 10-3 conference winner just won’t do.
Right now, 4 teams make the playoffs. The committee has given credence to conference winners but it won’t always be that way. This year, with the overall expected mediocrity of the PAC-12 and the fact that Notre Dame has already experienced one loss, this could be the year that a Group of 5 (Houston) gets in. It could also be the year that a conference sends two teams.
The Big 12 already tried to crash the party with two teams in the inaugural playoffs by sending both TCU and Baylor. The Big 12 famously decided not to name a champion, hoping the playoff committee would either choose one for it, or select both teams as a worthy opponent. The committee laughed in the Big 12’s face and left both teams out.
What do you do if you’re the Big 12? Why would you subject your two best teams to an even tougher schedule, along with reducing the recruiting base of your conference by adding another Texas team and adding a market you are already saturated in just to make a tough conference. Does that tough conference gain you national relevance? Not if you don’t win national championships it doesn’t and sending a 3 or 4 loss team isn’t going to win the national championship in the current climate.
Congrats to Houston on their current success and their win on Saturday but you may just proven why the Big 12 can’t invite you.