"Every aspect of our department and our programs and the opportunity it provides the institution to be able to grow. For me it’s incredibly personal. We’ve gone through a nomadic life for a bit and to have this chance and this opportunity presented to us today, I haven’t found a single word to describe it other than it’s just truly meaningful.”
The University of Houston’s hard work has finally paid off.
After years of trying and failing to get into the Big 12, the Cougars will finally get their wish come 2023, as Houston officially accepted an invitation to join the conference on Friday.
“There isn’t any question that the Cougars raise the bar in every sport,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “They live and reside in arguably the best recruiting county in the United States for football, when you add to that the obvious excelece of the basketball program that Kelvin Sampson has built is remarkable and sustainable. We couldn’t be any more excited.”
Houston was passed over during the last round of expansion in the Big 12, but with the news that The University of Texas and University of Oklahoma will be leaving the conference for the Southeastern Conference in 2025, things opened up once again and Houston, along with Brigham Young University, the University of Central Florida, and the University of Cincinnati.
The four teams will join the Big 12 in 2023 or 2024, as the Big 12 will expand to 14 teams before dropping back down to 12 in 2025 if OU and UT are unable to leave early for the SEC.
“Frankly since before I was put into this role and got here it was very clear what our direction was,” said Houston athletic director Chris Pezman. “We needed to be prepared for a moment in the marketplace that would create the opportunity for us to explore options. We had the relationships already in place with Tilman (Fertitta) and Renu (Khator) we were geared up and ready when Texas and OU made their announcements. There’s a lot of things that go into that and the relationships and investment had been there for over 10 years.”
Once UT and OU do leave, the league is not ruling out expanding again, as Bowlsby said that they will be open to opportunities depending on when or how they present themselves.
A big part of Houston’s acceptance into the Big 12 was it’s success in major sports such as football, where the Cougars have won two division titles and one conference title in the American Athletic Conference and men’s basketball, where the team comes off a final four appearance. But the team’s golf program also played a big part.
“It was a voyage of exploration in the last time looked to expand,” Bowlsby said. “We were unsure as to whether or not expansion made sense for the Big 12 then and in the end the board made the decision that staying at 10 was the right decision at that time. I think with Texas and OU moving to the SEC, it caused a renewed consideration of the options that were available and I think that the more our group became committed with one another the more they began to believe the kind of quality of a school like the University of Houston, made good sense in a broad array of sports but particularly in football and basketball. We just feel like from top to bottom the time was right and the institutions were right.”
The Big 12 looked into adding Houston in 2016, but decided against it, but the Cougars continued to grow their program and earn a spot in the league. The crew at Houston knows this has been coming for a long time.
“There’s a lot of scars on a lot of alumni from the University of Houston because of what happened in the early 90s, but to be in this position today, this affects everything,” Pezman said. Every aspect of our department and our programs and the opportunity it provides the institution to be able to grow. For me it’s incredibly personal. We’ve gone through a nomadic life for a bit and to have this chance and this opportunity presented to us today, I haven’t found a single word to describe it other than it’s just truly meaningful.”