Romello Brooker #82 of the Houston Cougars celebrates after the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl against the Florida State Seminoles at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: In search of a deal, UT leaps to become a Houston booster

Posted July 22nd, 2016

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Really, Texas?

So now you’re gung-ho for the University of Houston to join your little Big 12 party. Now you’re rolling out the red carpet. Now you’re in favor of ushering the Cougars in, pulling out the chair for them at the table, snapping the napkin on their lap and taking their order.

Where were you two months ago, Texas, when the Big 12 was actively discussing the merits of expansion? Where have you been the past four years? Excuse me, but I fail to remember Texas’ public outcry that, by golly, it’s way past time to bring in Houston, that it’s outrageous the Cougars aren’t already part of the Big 12. An injustice of the highest order.

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Yeah, I missed all that.

Texas’ silence was downright deafening back then.

Of course, so was everyone else’s across the Big 12.

But now in the wake of the Republican national convention, the political games have begun within the Big 12. Let the backstabbing, back-room maneuvering, arm-twisting, cajoling, threatening and pleading begin.

On Thursday, the Texas president and chancellor were virtually tripping over themselves to endorse an invitation to Houston at the same time our fair governor and lieutenant governor were stumping for the same.

The only thing missing was Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s endorsement, but I guess she’s learned her lesson.

Thankfully, Greg Abbott didn’t congratulate the Cougars for winning the 2017 Big 12 football championship, but it appeared a bit contrived when Gov. Abbott joined Texas President Gregory L. Fenves, UT Chancellor Bill McRaven and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the pro-Houston conga line on the same day. The Kilgore Rangerettes aren’t this well-choreographed.

It was borderline hilarious — and over-the-top hypocritical — that so many power brokers were standing on their soapboxes to do what is right. Or what is expedient.

The bottom line is Texas got it right, even if for downright dubious motives. Houston should be in the Big 12. Which is exactly why everyone in the league, if not the nation, looks a little sideways and raises his eyebrows when the Longhorns supposedly do something out of the, uh, goodness of their hearts.

Texas, as it turns out, appears to just be trading Houston’s willingness not to fight an otherwise unwelcome intrusion of an additional UT satellite campus or school in Houston in exchange for the Longhorns’ support of UH’s bid to join the Big 12.

Never mind that another UT campus in Houston — clearly McRaven’s questionable pet project as evidenced by UT’s purchase of 332 acres just a few touchdown drives away from UH — would unnecessarily pull away resources from students and schools already within the UT System.

If Texas lent its powerful voice to pushing the Cougars’ inclusion and convinced Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU to do the same, maybe UH would look the other way, bite its lip and let UT build whatever UT-Houston campus or research center or popsicle stand that it so desires. The upside of exposure and revenue from Big 12 admission would just be too enticing for UH to turn down. Quid pro Bevo, in other words.

And that’s just wrong. Oh, it’s how the world works, even the athletic world. We all know that. You scratch my back, and I’ll back you to join my league. Pals forever, right?

If Houston has Texas’ genuine support and doesn’t get invited, what does that say about the Longhorns’ political clout in the Big 12?

This whole ugly situation may be just beginning. BYU could well be eliminated from consideration because of reports that sexual-assault victims on campus are investigated themselves for violating the school’s honor code, which prohibits premarital sex and the use of alcohol and tobacco among other things. An academic scandal at South Florida. Later, gator. If Memphis is such a great place, why did its football coach up and leave for Virginia Tech? Does UConn even have a football team?

In truth, Houston rightfully deserves an invite.

Why wouldn’t the Big 12 want to add a school in the nation’s fourth-largest city that’s also the country’s seventh-biggest television market? And I think we are seeing the Big 12 clearly does not control the Houston market. The SEC does. And can you blame Houstonians? Which game would you rather watch on Saturday? LSU-Florida? Or Kansas-Iowa State? Adding Houston could restore the market to the Big 12.

Consider these bowl TV ratings from last season as measured in H-Town. Houston’s stunning win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl drew an impressive 10.5 rating in the noon hour while a CFP semifinal between OU and Clemson was a smidgen higher at 11.1. Alabama’s prime-time win over Michigan State in the other semifinal registered a 10.9.

But wouldn’t inviting Houston into the Big 12 just empower the Cougars and allow them to run roughshod over the rest of the league while prying top recruits away from Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State? Somewhat. So what? Don’t you want to add a powerful brand and an athletic program on the rise, even if it’s in a football recruiting hotbed? If you just want to line up another cupcake, heck, invite SMU or North Texas. I’m sure the guv would support it.

Who knows how David Boren feels, but the OU president has an opportunity now to barter his support for Texas’ Houston love and declare he’ll vote for UH if Texas will vote for, say, BYU or another candidate. OU may well hold the key to UH’s chances.

In any case, Texas’ support for Houston is very transparent.

If UT was that altruistic, we all know it would have forfeited any and all rights to the divisive Longhorn Network years ago in the name of common interest. And that clearly hasn’t happened. And won’t. Nor will Texas budge and agree to extending the grant of television rights, which runs through the 2024-25 school year.

There’s nothing wrong with looking out for yourself. Of course, Texas has raised that to an art form.

The bottom line is Houston deserves to be in the Big 12. Maybe it always did.

Just don’t think Texas is supporting this move out of the goodness of its heart. It’s not. It’s just good business and dirty politics. Texas wants to stay on Houston’s good side in case if it wants to expand its UT System empire. Oh, and maybe steal a certain coach down the road. Pals, right?

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