Twenty years after a breakup with its Southwest Conference compatriots, Rice is pleading with them to get back together. According to a report from the Houston Chronicle, Rice has made a presentation to the Big 12 Conference in an effort to join the league.
The Big 12 is considered one of the top college athletic leagues in the country. Its members include athletic powerhouses such as the University of Texas, Austin and the University of Oklahoma. The conference is currently locked into a 13-year television deal worth $2.6 billion, equivalent to $200 million per year. As a comparison, Rice’s conference, Conference USA, is receiving $2.8 million for its television rights this year — just 1.4 percent of what the Big 12 is earning.
In recent months, the Big 12 has publicly declared its desire to add two or four schools to its 10-team conference. When asked what the conference is seeking in potential members, board chair David Boren listed five categories: athletic prowess, fan base, media market, integrity and academic standards. When asked to address conference realignment, Rice athletic director Joe Karlgaard said Rice offers a combination of three of the five categories the Big 12 values.
"I have no comment on Big 12 expansion,” Karlgaard said. “Our academic and athletic success and reputation of integrity should be an attractive combination in the ever-changing world of college athletics."
Since the Southwest Conference disbanded in 1996, Rice has changed conferences twice. It joined the Western Athletic Conference in 1997, then moved to Conference USA in 2005. Between 2010 and 2013, there were rumors that Rice was a candidate to switch conferences again as the Big 12 lost members and schools scrambled to find new leagues. Despite the rumblings, Rice has remained in Conference USA for the past 11 years.
So far, counting Rice, 20 schools have expressed interest in joining the Big 12. Those schools include the University of Houston, the University of Connecticut, Brigham Young University and the University of Cincinnati, among others. Each of those schools will make its own presentation to the conference, and the Big 12 will choose to add two or four of the applicants.
Any school choosing to leave its conference would have to pay an exit fee to its former league. That fee would likely be between $5 and $15 million, but it would be more expensive if the school chose to leave immediately after this school year. Because of this extra cost, it is likely that realignment will not occur until 2018 or later even if a change is agreed upon this year.
Therefore, this season, Rice’s athletic teams will compete in Conference USA regardless of the Big 12’s decision on realignment. It appears, however, that Rice’s athletic department may be willing to make a change. Whether the Big 12 decides that Rice is a good fit in its conference remains to be seen.