When AAC football lost UConn to the Big East a potential opening appeared in the conference. What stands in the way of Rice football making the move?
The college sports world seems like it’s careening toward chaos. Programs have been cut. Football season is in doubt. No one is in charge and no one has definite answers regarding what the future will hold. That lack of clarity is time to ask questions. Among them, where does Rice football fit in the college football landscape?
Will Conference USA be the Owls’ forever home or could there be an opportunity to make the move to the ACC in the future?
What stands in the way?
Let’s start a rung higher with the Big 12. Money has been the reason the Big 12 hasn’t expanded since it’s stopgap measure to add TCU and West Virginia. Adding another team would mean splitting the pie in yet another slice. The same rationale is true for the AAC and other conferences as well.
Unless the new member is going to bring enough revenue to make each current member’s slice bigger, the new addition would “cost” the current members money. That’s especially concerning in the current economic climate.
But that’s assuming stability. If the makeup of the membership of the AAC changes further, there could be opportunities to lay claim to a spot. And if for any reason the Big 12 went through a change in its membership and began looking toward the AAC, the ensuing musical chairs that followed might benefit Rice.
What if, for instance, Houston finally got the call? Wouldn’t the AAC consider replenishing its ties to the Houston market by adding Rice?
Why it makes sense
When UConn left the AAC was left with 11 football members. The conference had an easy opportunity to pursue expansion at that time, but chose not to do so. The 11-member schedule scraps divisions, creating a modified round-robin style of scheduling, or at least that’s the purported plan.
Rice will surely tout its academic prestige as a reason for admission. The Owls would easily sit atop the conference in that regard. Adding that widely accepted asset with a strong narrative on the field could get the Owls a seat at the table when the madness starts.
What does Rice need to do now?
If Mike Bloomgren can take Rice football to a few consecutive bowl games and push for a C-USA title over the next couple of seasons, selling the story of an up-and-coming program in a top national market becomes a little easier. For Rice, winning will be the prerequisite for any vertical ascent.
Stability is no longer the norm, especially not for college sports. Changes to the conference landscapes are coming. Rice could do a lot to bolster their attractiveness by winning, and winning now. Strong academic and strong athletics sell. Rice has half of that covered and has done extremely well in other sports like volleyball and women’s basketball.
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If football joins the ascent, Rice could have a chance. At this point, it would still be a sizable jump, but what seams feasible in today’s climate could change drastically from what made sense yesterday. For the time being, win.