Long-awaited dream: UH accepts invite to join Big 12

The UH football team takes the field at NRG Stadium before its 2021 season-opener against Texas Tech. | James Schillinger/The Cougar

The UH football team takes the field at NRG Stadium before its 2021 season-opener against Texas Tech. | James Schillinger/The Cougar

Houston’s long-awaited dream of joining one of college athletics’ power conferences is now a reality as the University is jumping ship from the American Athletic Conference and accepting an invitation to join the Big 12.

“Joining the Big 12 Conference is a historic step in our institutional journey and signifies the tremendous growth and success attained academically and athletically over the last decade,” said UH Chancellor Renu Khator. “Our expectations for our University remain high, our aspirations continue to be bold, and we embrace this new opportunity to compete at the highest levels in all we do.”

After being on the wrong end of the stick when the Southwest Conference disbanded, UH hopped around a couple of different conferences spending time in Conference USA from 1996-2012 before joining the AAC.

But it was always UH’s goal to one day be a part of an autonomous conference.

In 2016, it was rumored that the Big 12 was considering expanding and UH would be one of the schools in consideration to be added. But UH’s dreams of joining a Power Five conference were soon crushed as the Big 12 decided against expansion.

After the 2016 fiasco, many believed it would be a long time before UH got another opportunity to join a Power Five conference but the landscape of college athletics drastically changed when Texas and Oklahoma announced would leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference by 2025.

Texas and Oklahoma’s decision to leave the Big 12 for the SEC shook up conference alignment and opened the door for UH to get another shot to finally be admitted into one of the power conferences.

The Cougars officially applied for Big 12 membership Wednesday as the UH System Board of Regents gave Khator the green light in what was a unanimous decision.

Big 12 officials met Friday morning and unanimously voted to extend an invitation to UH along with BYU, Cincinnati and UCF to join the conference.

UH plans to begin Big 12 play as soon as the fall of 2023.

“Today is a monumental day in the trajectory of the University of Houston,” said UH vice president for athletics Chris Pezman. “Over the years there have been many moments and many people responsible for those moments that have paved the way to today’s years-in-the-making announcement.

“As a Cougar myself, it is a privilege and honor to represent the many who have played a role in getting all of us to this special day,” Pezman continued. “On behalf of the University of Houston, I want to thank Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and the membership of the Big 12 for their belief in us and the value we can add to the Conference. Our collective past performances have led us to the opportunity we have today. We are humbled, honored, excited and ready to get to work. Together, what we can accomplish is limitless.”

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