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University of Houston Weighs Big 12 Bid

TDECU Stadium

Though it is seen as a logical candidate to join the Big 12, the University of Houston would face some financial risks in a move. 

Since it was announced this summer that the Big 12 is considering the addition of multiple schools, the University of Houston has been viewed as a very formidable contender. Compared to other universities, Houston can offer a robust media market as well as state-of-the-art athletic facilities. TDECU Stadium opened just two years ago at a cost of $128 million, and the football program is set to receive a $25 million practice facility. While football is a major part of the equation, the basketball program also stands out, as it will soon occupy an extensively overhauled arena.

Having those elements in place makes the University of Houston a worthy candidate, but some financial issues for the school loom. Firstly, the university’s athletics have been estimated to generate significantly less revenue than existing Big 12 programs, and face some uncertainty when it comes to its current rate of spending. As Sam Mellinger wrote recently analyzing these facts for the Kansas City Star, the university’s move to the Big 12 is by no means a guaranteed financial win:

Houston is among the many college athletic departments that lose money. But according to analysis by USA Today, the university gave the seventh-highest subsidy to athletics in the country. This is all further complicated by Houston already stretching itself to get this close, both in tapping wealthy donors and by funding the football stadium in part with a $45 per semester student fee.

[Athletic director Hunter] Yurachek thinks a move to the Big 12 would make Houston athletics profitable “over time,” but that’s a dubious claim considering the gap his department needs to close and the trends of college sports.

Murray Sperber is a professor in cultural studies of sport in education at Cal-Berkeley and an author who has written extensively about major college sports.

“No,” he said when asked if there was any way Houston could have a net profit from a move to the Big 12. “It’s a fool’s game. Their facilities will never be better than Texas’, or Oklahoma’s. They’re the future Iowa State.”

There have been some colleges that struggled upon moving into new conferences, as the higher standard of play and increased demands can weigh down certain schools. Yet as Mellinger noted in his analysis, a potential revenue windfall from the Big 12 could help the University of Houston, with the move sparking further fan and corporate interests in the program.

If the more optimistic forecast came to fruition, it would likely happen over a period of years rather than provide an immediate fix. At the rate the University of Houston is spending on it athletics–particularly football–a higher profile than what it receives in the American Athletic Conference could be in order, but the university would have to map out a long-term financial plan in the event that it did not immediately improve its bottom line.

Other schools are looking to bolster their Big 12 cases through new football facilities or stadiums, including Colorado State and SMU. BYU has also been frequently cited as a candidate, making the push to join the Big 12 a very competitive battle.

 Image courtesy of the University of Houston Athletics. 

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