Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image


Next B-Cycle expansion approved


Expansion of Houston’s bike sharing system is pretty much in high gear after City Council on Wednesday signed off on a $4.1 million plan to roughly triple the number of bikes and kiosks.

With the agreement in place, local B-Cycle operators can proceed with their plan to purchase 568 bikes and install 71 new kiosks where people can check out a bike.

By 2018, Houston is slated to have roughly 100 stations and 800 bicycles spread across the central business district, Midtown, Texas Medical Center, Montrose, Rice Village and around the University of Houston and Texas Southern University campuses.

Seventeen of the stations in the medical center and Museum District should be operational by March, said Carter Stern, executive director of Houston’s bike sharing system.

Stern said new stations will pop up in Midtown and the Montrose area in the summer, with stations on the college campuses expected to open in the fall.

“The rest of the allocated stations will occur piecemeal as we finalize locations and secure the matching funding,” Stern said last month.

This expansion was announced in August, with funding coming from a TxDOT grant and the nonprofit Houston Bike Share. Usage continues to grow as well, and in the parts of town where B-Cycle exists and will exist getting around on a bike often makes more sense than driving and parking. I look forward to further growth, and eventual further expansion.

Big XII declines to expand

Sorry, UH.

The University of Houston’s campaign to join the Big 12 Conference was crushed Monday by the league’s presidents, who ruled out expansion without discussing the merits of any individual applicants, including the confident, fast-rising Cougars.

Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 commissioner, and University of Oklahoma President David Boren, president of the league’s board of directors, said league CEOs decided unanimously against expansion and agreed to remove the topic as an active agenda item.

They said individual candidates, including UH and Rice University among 11 finalists, were never discussed during meetings Sunday night and a six-hour session Monday.

“We all came to a unanimous decision that this was not the right time (for expansion),” Boren said. “All the information generated was not wasted effort. They (candidate schools) presented themselves in a very fine light, and we appreciate them.”

Those compliments, however, came as cold comfort to schools such as UH that have invested tens of millions of dollars in facility upgrades and coaching salaries in the hopes of joining one of the “Power Five” conferences that hold the financial upper hand in the billion-dollar college sports industry.

So while UH stands among the nation’s elite on the field, ranked No. 11 in the most recent Associated Press football poll and the defending football champion in the American Athletic Conference, it remains on the outside looking in when it comes to the millions in financial spoils that fall to established leagues like the Big 12.

Here’s the official press release about the non-announcement. The Big XII last invited new members in 2011 when TCU and West Virginia joined. UH had been angling for an invitation back then – they’ve been at this for longer than that – but wound up going to the conference formerly known as the Big East instead. I’m not a UH partisan so I don’t have an emotional investment in this; I find the whole neverending game of musical conferences to be amusing and enervating at the same time. It may be that this is a wise decision for the Big XII and it may be that they’re putting short-term and self-interested considerations ahead of their long-term viability. Who knows? The one thing I’m sure of is that this settles nothing. We’ll be back on this rollercoaster before you know it. SB Nation, the Press, and the DMN’s SportsDay have more.

Next B-Cycle expansion announced

From the inbox:

Houston’s bike share system, Houston B-cycle, will more than triple in size over the next two years, adding 71 stations with 568 bikes. The expansion will be paid for with federal grant dollars.

“The expansion of the B-cycle system will bring bike sharing into new neighborhoods and to new users,” said Mayor Turner. “As I’ve said, we need a paradigm shift in transportation away from single-occupancy motor vehicles. Making cycling more accessible by building a strong bike sharing system is a critical component of that change.”

The City’s Planning and Development Department sponsored an application for a grant from the Federal Highway Administration. The grant will reimburse the City for $3.5 million of the cost of expanding the system. Houston Bike Share, a local nonprofit that administers Houston B-cycle, will provide the remaining $880,000.

Currently, the system has 31 stations with 225 bikes. The expansion will bring the total to 102 stations and 793 bikes. The grant will also pay for two new transportation vehicles.

Houston B-cycle is a membership-driven bike share system. Memberships are available by day, week or year. All members have unlimited access to the bikes for up to 60 minutes per trip. There is a charge of $2 for every additional half hour.

The expansion brings bike sharing into the Texas Medical Center with 14 stations and 107 bikes. The new stations will also serve Houston’s students, with 21 new stations and 248 bikes at the University of Houston Main Campus, Texas Southern University, UH-Downtown and Rice University.

Since January 1, cyclists have made 73,577 trips and traveled 508,044 miles. Houston Bike Share CEO Carter Stern estimates Houstonians are on track to exceed 100,000 trips by the end of 2016.

“We could not be more grateful for the Mayor and City Council’s unflagging support of the Houston B-Cycle program and our efforts to expand the program,” Stern said. “The expansion approved today will allow us to build on the immense success that B-Cycle has had in just 4 short years and bring this affordable, healthy, sustainable mobility option to more Houstonians than ever before.”

Sounds good to me. There isn’t an updated system map yet, but this does a lot to expand B-Cycle outside the borders of downtown/Midtown, in areas that are dense and proximate to light rail lines. You know how I feel about using the bike network to extend transit reach, and B-Cycle is a great fit for the rail stations because trains are often too crowded to bring a bike onto them. I can’t wait to see what the new map looks like. The Press has more.

KUHA sale completed

Say goodbye to classical music on your terrestrial radio.

Houston Public Media’s classical musical station transitions to an all-digital format starting at 9 a.m. Friday, July 15.

It’s a result of Christian radio station KSBJ agreeing to purchase the KUHA 91.7 FM signal from the University of Houston — which holds the license — in February 2016.

“We are happy that the ownership of KUHA will stay in local hands and we are excited about the future,” Houston Public Media Associate Vice President and General Manager Lisa Shumate said in a statement. “Houston Public Media’s commitment to multi-platform arts and culture content, in addition to classical music, is stronger than ever.”


KUHA 91.7 FM was purchased from Rice University for $9.5 million in 2010. Most of the classical music and arts programming produced by Houston Public Media moved to the new station, along with live broadcasts with the Houston Symphony, the Houston Grand Opera and local performing artists and groups. KUHF then adopted a 24-hour all news and information format.

See here for the background. KUHA continues to exist as an HD station, and of course there’s always streaming. But if you like to listen to classical music in your car, and you don’t have an HD receiver, you’re out of luck. And so it goes.

Former KTRU to become Christian station

Well, that’s different.

KSBJ Educational Foundation, which owns and programs noncommercial Christian music radio stations, acquired the 50,000-watt KUHA (91.7 FM). Subject to Federal Communications Commission approval, the station could switch from its current classical format to NGEN by late May or early June.

UH in 2010 acquired the station for $9.5 million from Rice University, where it was known for years as KTRU, and aired classical music on the signal before deciding last year to put the station on the market and move its classical programming to digital formats.

“It’s a good result for Houston because classical service continues and the station stays in the hands of local owners and experienced broadcasters,” said Lisa Shumate, general manager of Houston Public Media. “It enables us to continue to provide multi-platform arts and culture coverage and use our resources for continued focus in news and other local content initiatives.”


Classical music will continue on 91.7 FM until the sale is approved and also can be heard at KUHF (88.7 FM HD-2), the Houston Public Media mobile app, at, on over the air television at Channel 8.5 and through iHeartRadio and TuneIn and other free mobile applications.

We first heard about this last August. Whatever you think of the whole KTRU situation – and for what it’s worth, KTRU is back on the air, if you can find it – this now means there will no longer be a non-HD FM station devoted to classical music in Houston. That just feels wrong, but then no one asked me.

B-Cycle expansion coming


Houston area officials are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into widening Interstate 45, and they could be paying much more for even larger upcoming projects along the corridor.

But a comparatively-paltry sum is about to boost bike sharing in Houston in a big way.

The same transportation improvement plan aiming $140 million at I-45 includes $4.7 million meant to expand the B-Cycle program in the city. The plan is set for discussion Friday by the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council.

The money, including a 21 percent match from B-Cycle, will add stations in the Texas Medical Center and Rice Village in one phase, increase density in the downtown and Midtown area from the Med Center in another, before expanding east and southeast to EaDo and the University of Houston and Texas Southern University area.

“By the time this is finished, our goal is to go from 29 stations and 210 bikes to 100 stations with 800 bikes,” said Will Rub, director of Houston B-Cycle.


Having 800 bikes at Houston kiosks would build on what supporters have said is strong use of the bikes by Houston residents and visitors. From January to July, more than 60,000 bike checkouts occurred. The theory, following on similar reaction in Denver, is more stations and bikes exponentially increase use, provided the stations are where people want to go.

See here, here, and here for some background. According to the Mayor’s press release, about $3.8 million is coming from H-GAC, and the rest is from B-Cycle, which as he story notes has generally covered most of its operating costs. Having more stations will make B-Cycle a lot more usable; I personally have had a couple of recent occasions where I needed to get somewhere on the edges of downtown from my office, but the nearest B-Cycle station was far enough away from my destination that it wasn’t worth it. Especially now with the rerouted buses and the new rail lines, expanding B-Cycle access will make transit that much more convenient as well. I look forward to seeing where the new kiosks go. The Highwayman has more.

91.7 FM will be sold again

The radio station formerly known as KTRU will have another new home soon.

Houston Public Media, which operates the University of Houston’s broadcasting properties, says it will sell the frequency and transmitter for KUHA (91.7 FM) while retaining the station’s classical music format via online streaming and an HD Radio subchannel of KUHF (88.7 FM).

The university paid $9.5 million in 2010 to purchase 91.7 FM from Rice University, which operated the station as KTRU. It was relaunched as UH’s third broadcasting property along with KUHF, its news and National Public Radio outlet, and KUHT (Channel 8).

Lisa Shumate, general manager of Houston Public Media, said the decision to sell, which was approved by UH regents Thursday, reflected the organization’s need to focus on “the best piece of technology and the best use of donor funds.”

“We are already in HD and are streaming (with the classical music format),” Shumate said.

“Why would you pay for another transmitter and tower when if you take the time you can tell the public how they can get better sound using (HD Radio) at 88.7?”

See here for the KTRU story. I’m not going to relitigate any of that, but I suppose one could argue that if the frequency and transmitter no longer count as “the best piece of technology” out there because of HD radio, then Rice sold at the right time and probably got a pretty good price. That doesn’t address how the sale went down or any of the other issues around it, so I doubt that will make any KTRU backer any happier, but it’s something. KUHF, which had the story first, has more.

Voter ID may have had broader effects than we thought


Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas’ strict voter identification requirements kept many would-be voters in a Hispanic-majority congressional district from going to the polls last November — including many who had proper IDs — a new survey shows.

And the state’s voter ID law – coupled with lackluster voter education efforts – might have shaped the outcome of a congressional race, the research suggests.

Released on Thursday, the 50th anniversary of the federal Voting Rights Act, the joint Rice University and University of Houston study found that 13 percent of those registered in the 23rd Congressional District and did not vote stayed home, at least partly, because they thought they lacked proper ID under a state law considered the strictest in the nation. And nearly 6 percent did not vote primarily because of the requirements.

But most of those discouraged Texans had the proper documents to vote, says the study, which came one day after a federal appeals court ruled that the four-year-old Texas law has a “discriminatory effect” on Hispanics and African-Americans.

The researchers surveyed 400 people who registered but did not vote in the 29-county district, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso and along a large slice of the Texas-Mexico border. The study found that less than 3 percent lacked proper identification during November’s election.

“The voter ID law depressed turnout in the 2014 election, but it did so primarily through confusion, not through actually keeping people without IDs from voting,” said Mark Jones, a professor at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and an author of the study.


“The voter ID law depressed turnout in the 2014 election, but it did so primarily through confusion, not through actually keeping people without IDs from voting,” said Mark Jones, a professor at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and an author of the study.

The law requires most citizens (some, like people with disabilities, can be exempt) to show one of a handful of forms of allowable photo identification before their election ballots can be counted. Acceptable forms include a state driver’s license or ID card that is not more than 60 days expired at the time of voting, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card or a U.S citizenship certificate with a photo. The acceptable list is shorter than any other state’s.

The new study suggests that the state’s effort to educate voters about the requirement – which included postings on the secretary of state’s website – fell flat.

“It was a very limited education campaign in CD-23,” Jones said. “Most voters who are confused by the voter ID law don’t regularly go to the secretary of state’s website to see what’s new.”

The secretary of state’s office took issue with that description, saying it spent $2 million on voter education efforts statewide on radio, television and print advertising among other outreach efforts.

But Democrats and other outspoken opponents of the law may have also contributed to the problem, seeing their criticism boomerang into confusion for would-be voters, Jones added.

“If the message they received was that there’s this new strict voter ID law, but they didn’t receive the second part — of what the several forms of ID are — that may have caused part of the problem,” he said.

The voters of CD23 were picked for this study because it was one of the few truly close races in the state last year. I’d like to see the result of a similar study over a wider portion of the state, perhaps with a bigger sample. I don’t doubt that some people were confused, for all the reasons stated. But let’s not kid ourselves, this was a feature and not a bug. As we’ve discussed many times before, there were lots of things the Lege could have done to mitigate the effects of this law – allowing more forms of ID, having more DPS locations for the EICs, doing real outreach and education to voters – but this was what we got. It’s why the Fifth Circuit ruled the way it did on the voter ID appeal. The real surprise would have been if there had been no confusion at all. Hair Balls and ThinkProgress have more.

Complaint filed against Whitmire

I think this is more a political stunt than anything else, but we’ll see.

Sen. John Whitmire

Sen. John Whitmire

A conservative group has filed a criminal complaint against state Sen. John Whitmire, accusing him of coercion in an exchange of text messages with University of Houston President Renu Khator that was published in the Houston Chronicle.

In the Aug. 16 conversation, Whitmire told Khator he would “stop dead and pass leg (legislation)” unless she killed a plan to require freshmen to live on campus. Khator agreed to withdraw the proposal and asked Whitmire to forgive her.

The complaint, filed Aug. 29 with Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit by the Conservative Action Fund, cites the exchange. Representatives of the unit, which investigates claims against elected officials, could not be reached for comment Monday.

“Senator Whitmire directly attempted to influence – and did in fact influence – a public servant (the UH President) ‘in a specific exercise of [her] official power,’ ” the complaint says. “He achieved such influence by means of ‘coercion,’ that is, by threatening to ‘take … action as a public servant’ in the Legislature if UH did not bow to his demand.”

Whitmire dismissed the complaint as “absolutely silly.”

“I haven’t even given it a second thought,” Whitmire said. “Obviously a group of lawyers have got too much time on their hands.”

The complaint seems intended, in part at least, as a defense of Gov. Rick Perry, who was indicted last month on similar charges. Perry threatened to, and later did, veto funding for the Travis County-based Public Integrity Unit, if Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg did not step down after being arrested for drunken driving.

Here’s the letter they sent. I’ll leave it to the lawyers in the audience to analyze. I agree with the story’s suggestion that this is more about Rick Perry than it is about John Whitmire, but if Rosemary Lehmberg thinks it merits the attention of a grand jury then so be it. I will just note again that we have only the barest of outlines of the case against Rick Perry. Assuming the indictments survive the motion to dismiss, we’ll finally start to see what the evidence against Perry looks like. I’m going to guess that it will add up to just a wee bit more than what is being cited against Whitmire, but I guess you never know. Campos and Hair Balls have more.

End of year B-Cycle report

B-Cycle has been in Houston for nine months, having launched in early April. So far, it’s done pretty well.

The B-Cycle system’s 29th station was christened earlier this month in front of Clayton Homes. Officials said they hoped to provide new customers for bike-sharing and new opportunities for low-income families.

“The more you use the bikes, the more excited you become,” said Tory Gunsolley, president of the Houston Housing Authority.

In many U.S. cities, bike-sharing has become popular mainly among people who choose to bike for recreation. Critics say bike-sharing hasn’t reached low-income neighborhoods, however.

Houston’s build-out didn’t push into poorer neighborhoods, but it didn’t start in wealthy enclaves either. From three downtown stations, the system pushed south and west into Midtown, Montrose and the Museum District. It subsequently spread to the Heights, Eado and the Northside.

Houston will put B-Cycle kiosks where it can, when it can, as corporate partnerships and funding allow, said Houston Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian. She said having stations at the University of Houston, Rice University and Texas Southern University will be the next important steps.

“We want to double and triple this program and I know that we can do that,” Spanjian said.

Connecting the bikes with communities that need transportation is part of the strategy, Gunsolley and Houston B-Cycle director Will Rub said. The bikes could be an asset for people who need to travel a few blocks and don’t want to wait for a bus or ask someone for a ride.


Use of a kiosk near Project Row Houses, a Third Ward arts group, has been brisk, said Assata Richards, community liaison for the group.

“They use it to go to the grocery store, they use it to get around the neighborhood,” Richards said.

Looks to me like the Project Row kiosk is a short ride away from the planned Southeast Line station at Elgin and Scott. That will be an excellent location for future kiosk, since it will make the Southeast Line more accessible to these folks. If the Universities Line ever gets built, a kiosk by the TSU station, at the west end of campus, would serve a similar purpose, just on a much farther out timeline. You know me, I’m all about linking bikes to transit. Two connected networks are better than two separate networks. There’s already a kiosk near the Dynamo Stadium light rail stop, which is the nearest neighbor to the Runnels location, so it’s already networked.

Ridership of Houston’s bike-sharing system, Texas’ first, continues to grow. After a quick expansion from three to 27 kiosks in less than a year, ridership jumped. Use peaked in July with 7,225 checkouts but fell to 4,053 the following month before rebounding slightly.

“The heat in August had an impact on the leisure riders primarily and the cold and wet weather in late November had a similar impact,” Rub said in an email.

I have not used my B-Cycle membership as much as I would have liked. My plan was mostly to use it during lunchtime to expand my dining options and also possibly for certain types of errands. I have done those things, just not very often. One obstacle that I haven’t figured out how to overcome is the helmet. I don’t like riding without one, so I have to plan to bring my helmet with me to the office if I plan to ride later. That has its own logistical issues, as I’m sure you can imagine. I do want to ride more as the weather warms up, so I need to get that sorted out.

UH goes smoke-free

Good for them.

The University of Houston, which educates more than 40,000 students each year on its 667-acre campus, will become tobacco-free June 1, school officials announced Thursday.

The new policy, approved by UH Chancellor Renu Khator, bans the use of tobacco products in all university buildings and grounds, including parking areas, sidewalks and walkways. It will apply to all employees, students, contractors and visitors to the campus.

“We are very well aware that this will be an inconvenience to the UH community of smokers,” said Kathryn Peek, assistant vice president of university health initiatives and co-chair of the school’s tobacco task force. “But nobody has to quit smoking. What we’re trying to do is eliminate second-hand smoke on the campus.”

For smokers, UH will provide 20 designated open areas for tobacco use mostly situated away from buildings and walkways. People will be able to smoke there, but after a year the task force will decide if it will allow those exemptions to continue.


UH is a recipient of more than $9.4 million in funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, which began requiring its recipients in 2012 to have tobacco-free policies in and around all locations where research is conducted.

The University of Texas at Austin and Rice University banned tobacco on their campuses in 2012. Texas A&M is awaiting approval of the president to establish a tobacco-free campus. All are CPRIT grant recipients.

“CPRIT accelerated the university’s tobacco-free campus policy, but that isn’t the sole reason,” Peek said. “This was a student-led movement from the beginning.”

Good to know CPRIT has been good for something. More seriously, I’m somewhat amazed that UH didn’t already ban smoking in these places. Most public places have been smoke-free for so long that I suppose I just took that for granted. This has been in the works at UH since June but it’s just coming up now. Better late than never, I guess.

Another reason why graduate school sucks

I just shook my head when I read this.

English Department teaching fellows at the University of Houston ended their sit-in Monday after UH Chancellor Renu Khator committed $1 million a year to improve their wages – potentially enough money to bring the roughly 70 teaching fellows up to the living wage for which they’d petitioned.

In an official statement, organizers of the sit-in called the decision “an extraordinary moment.”

Graduate students and faculty had launched the excruciatingly polite sit-in outside the chancellor’s office on April 3. Currently, the teaching fellows are paid $9,600 to $11,200 a year to teach the freshman composition classes that are part of the university’s core curriculum. Faculty noted that the fellows hadn’t received a raise in 20 years and that the stipends weren’t competitive with those of peer universities.

I came to Houston in the fall of 1988 to be a PhD student in math at Rice. The stipend they gave me, which did not include any teaching requirements, was something like $1,000 per month. I don’t remember the exact figure – it’s been awhile, after all – but it was enough for me to live on. It boggles my mind that there were graduate students here that were making no more than I did when Ronald Reagan was still President. Good on Dr. Khator for helping them out and all, but wow.

The Hall calls for Guy Lewis

Long overdue.

Guy Lewis and friends

Former University of Houston coach Guy V. Lewis, who won nearly 600 games, was the architect of the high-flying, rim-rattling Phi Slama Jama dynasty of the 1980s and helped integrate college basketball in the South, will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, a person familiar with the selection process said Thursday.

Later Thursday, Lewis’ wife, Dena, said the 91-year-old legendary coach received the news of his election after years of being passed over.

“We think it’s great,” Dena Lewis said. “Long overdue. I cried when I heard.”

Asked how Lewis, who retired in 1986, reacted, she said: “He said, ‘That’s great.’ ”


Despite his on-court success, Lewis was presumably bypassed from consideration – only making it as a finalist one previous time in 2003 – for never winning a national championship. Word of Lewis’ making the Hall came on the 30-year anniversary of his most stunning loss – North Carolina State’s 54-52 upset of the heavily favored Cougars in the 1983 championship game.

Lewis failed to receive enough support in recent years and was removed from the ballot for five years from 2008-2012. He became eligible again this year and joined a group of 12 finalists announced during NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston in February.

“The coaches I hated coaching against were the real good ones, and Guy was one of those,” legendary UCLA coach John Wooden told the San Antonio Express-News in 1998. “I think Guy took a bum rap because he never won a national championship.”

Here’s Lewis’ Wikipedia page, which includes his yearly record as UH coach. The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is a bit of an odd duck since its MLB and NFL counterparts it incorporates all parts of the game – NBA, ABA, college, women’s, and international basketball. There is longstanding criticism of the backlog of worthy entrants, including very loud protest over Guy V’s exclusion up till now. It’s great to see this oversight get corrected while the very deserving recipient is still with us to appreciate it. Congratulations, Coach, on the long overdue honor. Mean Green Cougar Red and Hair Balls have more.

Boise bails on Big East

By my count, the Big East has now lost more members than it ever had.

Boise State will remain a member of the Mountain West Conference and will not join the Big East in 2013.

The Broncos’ decision, confirmed in news releases by the the school and Mountain West on Monday, is the latest crippling blow to the Big East Conference, which has had 14 schools announce they were leaving the league in the past two years.

“As I’ve stated many times, I have had the utmost trust that the university would make the right decision in what is best for Bronco football and all our sports at Boise State,” football coach Chris Petersen said in the statement. “This innovative proposal to get football the maximum exposure on national television will be a tremendous boost to our program as we continue to grow the Bronco brand.

The Broncos will remain a Mountain West member in all sports instead of joining the Big East next year as a football-only member and the Big West in all other sports.

“The football programs in the Mountain West Conference continue to get stronger and we look forward to the challenge and competing in a strong league for many years to come,” Peterson said.

Without Boise State plus the announcement that the league’s seven Catholic basketball schools — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova — are leaving the league, the Big East’s future membership remains in flux.

A source with direct knowledge said there is a tentative in-person meeting of the seven presidents of the departing Catholic Big East schools set for Friday. Discussing exit fees and when to form the new conference are high on the agenda, as well as designating a point person.


The Big East also could lose another member, as San Diego State may return to the Mountain West.

With Boise State remaining in the Mountain West, the Aztecs’ Big East contract allows them to withdraw from the Big East without paying an exit fee if there is no other Big East member located west of the Rocky Mountains.

A Mountain West conference source with knowledge of the situation said San Diego State wants back in the Mountain West, but the league is holding up the process as it decides whether there is a better fit than the Aztecs and if there is a school that can deliver more value.

The source said if SDSU returns to the Mountain West, the Aztecs would have to come back on the conference’s terms.

USA Today thinks that SDSU is likely to wind up back in the MWC, though both stories explore the possibility of the MWC either finding an alternative to SDSU or expanding further; both mention Big-East-for-now members UH and SMU as possible targets for such expansion. I think that unless the MWC is in line for a renewed TV deal – and by the way, Boise State will make out like a bandit on the TV terms they negotiated to return to the MWC – expansion would just mean cutting their existing pie into smaller pieces, and as such I have my doubts. For sure, UH and SMU and all the other Big Easties had better be thinking about their own futures now. They can try one more time to patch the Big East ship, they can come crawling back to C-USA (which would have to eject some newly-recruited replacements to take them back), or they can form their own conference out of Big East refugees and whoever else they can poach. I’m guessing this is probably not the position they thought they’d be in as 2013 dawned. Mean Green Cougar Red has more.

Why not a university?

Tory Gattis has an interesting suggestion for that 136 acre tract of land east of downtown.

This parcel of land could be the last opportunity for Houston to add a major college campus to the city.  We should consider something similar to what NYC just did with Roosevelt Island, where after a long evaluation process they awarded it to Cornell for a technology campus.  That is likely to eventually be a huge economic development boon for New York.  Of course the City of Houston doesn’t own the land, but it could be a facilitator (along with the GHP) to open discussions with the landowner and various universities to explore interest.

There are a lot of potential options.

He lays out a number of possibilities, which I encourage you to examine. I have no idea how feasible any of this is, but it’s worth thinking about. Tory’s right that there may not be another opportunity for a university campus to be built inside the city limits. Such a development would also be a good fit for a streetcar extension when and if one gets built. I still lean towards something mixed use, but I could be persuaded otherwise. What do you think?

Metro and UH make nice


Construction of a light-rail line that would cross University of Houston property can continue now that UH and Metro officials settled differences that threatened to delay the project.

UH announced in a statement Tuesday that university officials have agreed to allow the Metropolitan Transit Authority to start the next phase of construction of the southeast line along Wheeler Avenue. In exchange, Metro will address concerns involving access to UH’s facilities.

The Metro board has agreed to pay $1.5 million to take the steps included in the agreement, according to spokesman Jerome Gray.

“We have worked diligently together to reach an agreement,” UH President Renu Khator said in a statement. “We have come to a resolution that both the university and Metro are happy with and that is in the best interests of the community.”

See here and here for some background. Details are still a bit sketchy, but the Examiner has a little more.

According to the agreement, Metro will be able to do the initial infrastructure work for installation of the light-rail along Wheeler Avenue from Calhoun/Martin Luther King Jr. to a point east of the Scott Street intersection.

A use agreement on the UH property along Scott where most of the needed land is located is still pending, however.

“We have worked diligently together to reach an agreement,” said UH President Renu Khator. “We have come to a resolution that both the university and Metro are happy with and that is in the best interests of the community. We look forward to completion of the Metro line and to the continuation of our partnership.”

Metro has agreed to provide an alternative access road to ease traffic problems caused by the construction of the rail along Wheeler, Richard Bonnin, UH executive director of media relations, said. Additionally, he said, access issues caused by construction of the line near the university’s Child Care Center and Department of Public Safety are being addressed by the transit agency.

I’m just glad they got this done. One less thing to worry about.

Meanwhile, on a not really related but still important note, Metro is having a special board meeting today to pick a referendum for the ballot.

The METRO Board of Directors will meet at 9 A.M. on Friday, August 3, 2012 to select a referendum proposal regarding METRO’s General Mobility Program. The Board has been listening to public input for the past several months at meetings throughout the METRO service area. Based on that input, Board Members have presented six possible referendum proposals and will now select one to be presented to voters in November. After voting on a referendum proposal the board will reconvene on August 17, 2012 to approve the ballot language and call for an election.

WHEN: 9 A.M. on FRIDAY, AUGUST 3, 2012
WHERE: Board Room, 1900 Main, Houston 77002 (Downtown Transit Ctr.)

For more about METRO’s 2012 General Mobility Program (GMP) Referendum Web page, click here.

The Chron story fills in some more details. Obviously, this is a big deal. I have no idea which way the Board is leaning, but I’ll say again that I favor Christof Spieler’s proposal, as a starting point if nothing else. Houston Tomorrow agrees with that assessment, and has sent this letter to the Metro board to express its support for the Spieler proposal. I hope it can build up a little momentum going into today’s meeting. Be that as it may, be there if you can. A joint statement from Houston Tomorrow and the CTC in favor of the Spieler proposal is beneath the fold.


UH prof writes letter in support of resolution with Metro

After I published about UH holding up construction on the Southeast Line over concerns about the route, I was forwarded a letter sent by UH English professor Irving Rothman to UH President Renu Khator asking her to get this issue resolved. Here’s the letter.

When I first arrived in Houston with my family in 1967, there was no easy transportation from my home in Meyerland to the university campus. I would take a bus to the Medical Center and then transfer to a second bus that transported me to Bellaire, Texas, where my wife would meet me in our car. Today, the situation has considerably improved. The 68 bus can take me directly from my corner bus stop to the university in one hour, a trip that takes about 25 minutes by car.

In the past, I have had students who could not attend class because their cars had broken down and they were far from bus stops. One student, during the gas crisis, with her mother out of work, did not have enough money to buy gas for transportation to the campus and sent me an e-mail apologizing for her absence. Rapid rail at relatively low cost per ride would offer more options for travel.

For the University of Houston to withhold the sale of minor parcels of land is shortsighted when one considers the greater advantages of Metro rail travel.


I hope that the University can immediately reconcile its differences with Metro, as reported in the Bellaire Examiner, and provide the needed parcels of land required for the completion of the system. We are an urban institution serving a diverse student body with faculty who also seek convenient transportation.

We’ll see what happens. If you’re connected with UH, what have you heard about this? Leave a comment or drop me a note. Thanks.

No smoking at UH

Put that cigarette down and slowly back away.

The University of Houston is on its way to becoming a tobacco-free campus.

Under a new proposal by school officials, UH would outlaw the “use, sale, advertising, and sampling of all tobacco products” on the 667-acre campus. Currently, smoking is prohibited inside buildings and cars and within 15 feet of building entrances.

The proposed policy must be approved by the UH president and council of vice presidents, but officials already are planning a fall semester “rollout” that would include an education campaign and smoking cessation classes, said Kathryn Peek, assistant vice president of university health initiatives and co-chair of the Tobacco Task Force. The policy would apply only to the main campus.

During a 12-month phase-in of the new policy, smoking would be allowed in temporary designated smoking areas, Peek said.


In February, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas announced that grant recipients would be required to have tobacco-free policies. UH has received $6.9 million in funding from CPRIT and expects more in the future, Peek said.

The University of Texas at Austin, which has received about $30 million in CPRIT funding, banned tobacco in April. Texas A&M, which has been awarded about $3.4 million in CPRIT grants, plans to modify its current policy, which forbids smoking inside buildings and athletic facilities.

According to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, about 711 colleges and universities are 100 percent smoke-free.

I had no idea this sort of thing has been happening on college campuses. My own alma mater has not taken this step yet. I don’t see any sign that the anti-smoking movement is slowing down, which is fine by me. The public health case for limiting cigarettes as much as possible is crystal clear.

Sometimes I think about the ways in which my life and experiences growing up will be utterly incomprehensible to my daughters. Much of that has to do with the advance of technology, but in many ways societal change will be more profound. When I was Olivia’s age, you could fly in the smoking section of an airplane. I’ve had the misfortune of being stuck in such a place before. When I filled out my roommate-match form for college, one of the questions asked was whether or not you smoked. I waited tables at a restaurant the summer after my sophomore year that was about 90% smoking section; the four tables that didn’t have ashtrays on them were non-smoking in name only. In the early 90s, it was still possible to buy an entry for the smoking section of a bridge tournament; these were generally held in hotels. And so on and so forth. Not everything about the world my girls are growing up in is better, but this part of it sure is.

UH versus Metro over Southeast Line route

Not sure what’s up with this.

Half a year after receiving a long-delayed $450 million federal funding grant for its Southeast line, Metro appears to have run into almost as big an obstacle to progress on that light-rail alignment much closer to home – the University of Houston.

“I can confirm for you that UH did ask Metro to move the lines off campus,” Richard Bonnin, executive director of UH Media Relations, said recently.

The Metro’s route, as submitted to the Department of Transportation, shows the Southeast line running on university property along Wheeler Street, then turning north along UH property on Scott Street. Transit agency records show that design requires 4.48 acres of university land, or roughly 11 percent of all acquisitions needed for the Southeast alignment.

To date, with construction well under way, Metro has been unable to buy any of that property, despite having obtained all land necessary for the rest of the route. That construction at two locations approaching the UH campus – one on Wheeler, one on Scott – came to a standstill about two months ago has caused concern among Metro builders.

“If this (UH land acquisition) takes much longer to bring to fruition, it will start to impact the overall schedule,” Doug Reehl, program director for Houston Rapid Transit, told the Metro board on March 22.

He added, “ideally” the impasse can be resolved within the next couple months, but “mitigating that time impact after four months will be very difficult.”

To date there has been no movement.

I can understand why UH might have some concerns about the on-campus property that Metro wants to use for this line. What I don’t understand is why this dispute is just coming up now. The basic outline of the Southeast Line route has been known since 2006. As the story notes, Metro formally submitted a route proposal to the feds as part of its Supplemental Environmental Impact Study in April of 2008; that routs is largely unchanged today. Groundbreaking on the Southeast Line was July of 2009. Construction was restarted after the Buy America fiasco in January, 2011. When exactly did it begin to occur to UH that they may have some concerns about this route?

I get that UH is in a different place now than they were in, say, 2009, with their new stadium plans and all, and that they have reason to be concerned about the effect on their available parking space. But the whole point of having this rail line go where it’s going to to help reduce the need for parking, especially for athletic events. Nothing is stopping UH from building a parking garage to supplement its surface parking, either. Be all that as it may, I’m not happy that this far-too-long-delayed project could be thrown back even more by late intransigence from another public institution. Even if Metro were willing to accommodate UH on this, would that incur further federal studies or records requests or whatever else? We’re too far along to get bogged down by that. Let’s get this settled and get it moving along already. Swamplot has more.

UH moves closer to Tier I status

Good for them.

The University of Houston is on the verge of accessing additional state money that could help catapult the school closer to prestigious Tier 1 status, according to a preliminary report from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Both UH and Texas Tech University have been cleared to access the new National Research University Fund, pending a mandatory review by the state auditor’s office.

UH President Renu Khator said she hopes to use the money – the amount of which still needs to be determined – to recruit faculty, especially those in costly fields like science, technology and engineering.

“We have done a lot, but we have so much more to do,” she said Friday. “I want our city to be nationally and globally competitive. I want our university to be nationally and globally competitive.”

I’m sure that report exists somewhere on the THECB webpage, but if so I can’t find it. In any event, the state auditor will verify the findings then present its own report, and we’ll go from there. Getting to Tier I status will be good for UH, the city, and the state. I wish them the best of luck in the process.

Navy to join Big East

Another new playmate for UH.

Navy has accepted an invitation to play football in the Big East, starting in 2015.

“Stability in the Big East was a very important aspect in our discussions with the commissioner,” Vice Admiral Michael Miller, superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, said during a teleconference. “What we see is a very bright future for the conference.”

Navy has been playing football as an independent since 1879, but academy officials said they believe that model will be too difficult to maintain as other powerful conferences grow. Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said scheduling games late in the season, landing desirable television deals and securing bowl bids will become a problem in the near future.

“Opportunities to exist as independents into the future are clearly in jeopardy,” he said.


The Big East, hit by the departures of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC, and TCU and West Virginia to the Big 12, will add Boise State and San Diego State for football and SMU, Central Florida and Houston for all sports, starting in 2013.

[Big East Commissioner John] Marinatto would like to get the conference to 12 football-playing schools, which would allow it to play a conference championship game.

When West Virginia departs and the new members begin play, the conference will have 11 members with football programs.

It’s going to be an eventful couple of years in the Big East as schools come and go, perhaps sooner or later than expected. Former Big East member Temple seems like a likely fit for the 12th member they’re seeking, though you never know. As Big East blogger Andrea Adelson says, there are no guarantees.

UH heads to the Big East

I wish them all the best.

The Big East Conference officially announced the additions of the University of Houston, Boise State, Central Florida, San Diego State and SMU on Wednesday.

UH, Central Florida and SMU are being added as all-sports members to the league while Boise State and San Diego State are joining as football-only members.

The additions will take effect in time for the 2013 football season.

“Over the last 32 years, the Big East Conference has constantly evolved along with the landscape of college athletics,” said Big East Commissioner John Marinatto. “The inclusion of these five great Universities, which bring a unique blend of premier academics, top markets, strong athletics brands and outstanding competitive quality, marks the beginning of a new chapter in that evolution. We are proud to welcome these schools to the Big East family.

“Much like the conference as a whole, the Big East name — though derived 32 years ago based on the geography of our founding members — has evolved into a highly respected brand that transcends borders, boundaries or regions. It’s national. Our membership makeup is now reflective of that.”

As things stand now, the reconstituted Big East will have ten members – I think it’s safe to assume that Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia will be allowed to make their exits prior to the 2013 season despite the lawsuit onslaught that has followed their initial announcements. Air Force and Navy may also be on board by then, which would allow the Big East to have two divisions, with the Big East West containing SDSU, Boise, Air Force, UH, SMU, and either Cincy or Louisville.

That all assumes that the five current Big East members stay put. As Andrea Adelson notes, that’s far from a sure thing.

The Big East had little choice but to add Houston, SMU, Central Florida and football-only members Boise State and San Diego State. After Pitt, Syracuse, TCU and West Virginia bolted the conference, the league had to do something to remain viable. That meant stretching itself, making Boise State its No. 1 priority to help boost its football profile. Boise State needed a West partner — hello, San Diego State.

None of this makes much geographical sense. There are no regional rivalries. There is no sense of brotherhood, of shared goals, of a common cause. Because the Big East was indeed a sinking ship in desperate need of a life preserver, it had to trade in the Backyard Brawl for some Red-Eye Rivalry.


These head-scratching moves do not answer any questions about the future of the Big East, not at all. What would make these 10 disparate universities band together to stick together? The first incarnation of the Big East failed. So did the second. How is the third any stronger than a conference that had Miami, Virginia Tech and West Virginia all on board?

Simply put, these moves are more of a stopgap measure and less of a stabilizing force. Once the conference seas start shifting again, you can bet some of the current members are going to want to jump as quickly as Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia and TCU did.

Think about it: Rutgers, Cincinnati, Louisville and Connecticut have gauged the interest of other conferences. According to the lawsuit West Virginia filed against the Big East to try and get out of the league for the 2012 season, representatives from those four schools “have been engaged in discussions with other sports conferences, including the ACC, SEC and Big Ten for the purpose of trying to obtain invitations to join these conferences and withdraw from the Big East.”

Indeed, Louisville practically threw itself at the Big XII a few weeks back, and UConn’s lust for the ACC is well known. It’s possible this mashup will settle their wanderlust, or will keep the predators at bay. I’m not sure I’d bet on that, however.

As for the conferences that the five joiners leave behind, it looks like they will get together and try to love one another right now form their own mega-conference.

C-USA and the Mountain West are considering a merger in all sports. Sources have indicated that Craig Thompson, the current commissioner of the Mountain West, would become the commissioner of the new merged league, while Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky would step down.

A vote on the merger could come by next month, sources said.

The merged league would consist of: East Carolina, Marshall, Memphis, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB and UTEP from C-USA and Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming from the Mountain West along with new members Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada for a 17-team conference. However, Air Force remains a viable candidate to join the Big East.

So, it’s more or less the old WAC-16 with some of the names changed to protect the innocent. I can hardly wait for the MOB’s “Annual Salute To The Everything Old Is New Again Conference” show next September. Hell, I’d start working on a script for it myself if I had any confidence that things won’t change again between now and then.

Anyway. As I said, I wish UH the best of luck. Nobody knows what the college football landscape will look like in a year, so if something comes along that looks like it may be better than what you have, you may as well grab for it. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman, in whose district UH resides, is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Air Force is staying put.


It’s official: WVU to Big XII

The Big East takes another body blow.

The Big 12 welcomed West Virginia from the Big East and bid goodbye to Missouri before the Tigers even had a chance to finalize their move to the Southeastern Conference.

Now that the poaching of the Big East seems to be over, the beleaguered league is not backing down. It has been busy courting six schools and says it was braced for the latest loss. And despite what the Big 12 says, the Big East plans to keep West Virginia for two more years — just as it has vowed to keep Pittsburgh and Syracuse away from the Atlantic Coast Conference until 2014.

The latest round of conference realignment appears to be winding down, but tug-o-war over who goes where when likely will take a while to sort out.

The Big 12 completed its work Friday by adding West Virginia to become its easternmost member, joining Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, TCU and Iowa State.

The Big 12 said it expects to have 10 schools for the 2012-13 season, listing West Virginia but not Missouri, which is expected to complete its move to the SEC any day now.

“I wouldn’t say that there won’t be further expansion,” interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas said on a conference call Friday evening. “But our mission was … to move forward with 10 teams at this point. That doesn’t mean that there wouldn’t be further consideration. But right now, we’ve got our house in order. We’ve got everybody signed up. We’re looking forward to a very aggressive conference.”

So for now at least, Louisville will remain in the Big East despite a late push from Sen. Mitch McConnell to push them ahead of West Virginia. The Big East continues to insist that WVU, along with Pittsburgh and Syracuse, will be held to their conference commitment through the end of the 2013 season, but I think we all know that that’s a problem that can be resolved by a judicious application of the checkbook.

Given that, what will the Big East do? The sidebar on this ESPN story says it will continue forward with an expanded version of its expansion plans.

The Big East plans to announce Central Florida, Houston and SMU as future members of the conference, likely in 2013, as early as Tuesday, the source said. Navy and Air Force are being more deliberate and methodical in the process, but the conference is hopeful both soon will follow, along with Boise State.

The conference has statistics it believes shows those six teams in addition to Louisville, Rutgers, UConn, South Florida and Cincinnati would qualify the conference as a continued automatic qualifier for the BCS. As a 12th member, the schools under discussion include BYU, Army, Temple, East Carolina and Memphis. BYU would be part of a logical Western Division of the Big East.

The Big East believes it would qualify for the BCS because of the depth of the football success of proposed teams in terms of Top 25 appearances and an overall lack of traditional bottom-feeding schools.

While some may suggest an independent school like Navy or Air Force could be available as early as next season, a conference official warned that those schools are committed to large schedules for next season that would create complications as challenging as adding a school from a conference that has exit fee and timeline complications.

I think if the Big East gets the schools it wants that it can survive and could continue to be a BCS conference, but it will be a conference of convenience and not much more. I don’t see a whole lot of traditional rivalries in that group, and the ones that I do see all involve newcomers. What will hold anyone to the conference in the event that one or more of the ACC, SEC, and Big XII decide that 14 and 10 members are awkward numbers to schedule around? That’s the decision that UH now faces.

University of Houston Chancellor and President Renu Khator was granted authority to make decisions regarding the school’s athletic conference affiliation during a board of regents meeting on Thursday at UH.

School officials did not publicly discuss any particular conferences. However, the school has interest and an invitation from the Big East Conference, which is looking to expand to 12 football-playing members.

“We certainly want to thank chairperson (Nelda Luce) Blair and the board of regents for their decision to grant our chancellor authority to make any decisions regarding conference membership, conference affiliation that are in the best interests of our student-athletes, staff, head coaches and our athletic department,” UH athletic director Mack Rhoades said.

The timetable for when UH might take its next step in determining its conference future is unclear.

“We’ll wait and see,” Rhoades said.

I think if you feel reasonably certain that the Big East gets all the schools it is targeting, and that the other conferences are satisfied with what they have for the foreseeable future, then you make the move and hope for the best, even if it means that your biggest rivalry game goes the way of UT-A&M. I have no idea how to evaluate those odds, and no idea how risk averse UH will be. I’m just glad it’s not my decision to make.

WVU to Big XII?

The Big XII appears to have a replacement in mind for when Missouri makes its move to the SEC.

The Big 12 has approved bringing in West Virginia to replace Missouri when the Tigers complete their move to the Southeastern Conference, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because neither the school nor the Big 12 had announced that its board of directors unanimously approved inviting West Virginia when Missouri’s spot comes open.

The move would allow the Big 12 to maintain 10 members and is another blow to the embattled Big East, which already has lost two members and one member-to-be in the last six weeks.

The Big East is trying to reconfigure as a 12-team football league and has been courting Boise State, Navy and Air Force as football-only members and Central Florida, SMU and Houston for all sports. Commissioner John Marinatto met with officials from some of those schools Sunday in Washington.

Since there is no timetable for Missouri to complete its expected departure from the Big 12 — and the league’s board of directors announced that it expressed “a strong desire” for Missouri to stay during a Monday meeting — there is no timetable for West Virginia to receive a formal invitation, the person said.

But the school will accept an invitation once it is offered, the person said.

That news comes at a time when the powers that be at UH are considering their invitation to the Big East, or whatever may be left of it.

UH’s board of regents called for a special meeting at 4 p.m. on Thursday regarding the school’s athletic conference affiliation.

On the meeting agenda is a request for approval to “delegate authority to the Chancellor to negotiate and execute a contract for athletic conference affiliation and to negotiate and provide notice of contract cancellation as necessary.”

The agenda does not specify a particular conference, but a person familiar with the Big East’s expansion discussions told the Chronicle last week that UH received an invitation to the Big East Conference.

If school chancellor and president Renu Khator is granted approval to act on conference affiliation on Thursday, the timetable for when UH might take its next step in determining its conference future is unclear.

“Thursday’s meeting is to give our board members an update on conference realignment as it pertains to the University of Houston,” UH athletic director Mack Rhoades said in a statement. “There is a great deal of speculation out there, and this meeting will allow us to provide our leadership with up-to-date information.”

The NYT says that the schools that were targeted by the Big East had been told about the possibility of WVU departing, so one presumes this is not a surprise. The question is whether it’s the last domino, and if so for how long.

While Big East officials and athletic directors are confident they will rebuild, there are troubling lingering issues. Does Notre Dame risk further Big East defections? It’s reasonable to expect the Big 12 to grow when it renegotiates its ESPN deal, which expires after the 2015 football season. That would put Louisville at risk of getting grabbed.

And Connecticut is yearning to be in the ACC. So again I say there may not be a Big East for anyone to join. Good luck with that decision, y’all.

Big XII targeting Big East schools

There are still more dominoes to fall.

Two high-level Big 12 school administrators said on Sunday the conference expects Missouri to leave and will act quickly to replace the Tigers, focusing primarily on West Virginia with Louisville as a strong second candidate.

“I think that’s accurate,” one school official told the American-Statesman. “I’d say West Virginia is the leader in the clubhouse. I think we’ll come out better than before. I’d rather be with someone who wants to be with our conference than anybody who doesn’t.”

Asked why the Big 12 would be upgraded, the official said, “West Virginia has better football than Missouri, better basketball than Missouri, a better budget than Missouri and more passion among its fans than Missouri. They’re better, anyway you turn ‘em. The travel’s not good (to Morgantown, W. Va) but that’s it.”

He added there is support for Louisville, but said a lagging football program hurts its appeal.


A second Big 12 school official told the Statesman he prefers Louisville because of its closer proximity and said travel to West Virginia would make for too big a burden on the athletes.

“The only place where there’s an advantage for West Virginia is better football,” the second official said. “Their academics is not as strong. If there’s any thought about what’s best for the student-athlete, we’ll go with Louisville.”

So don’t start printing those “We’re Moving!” cards just yet, UH. It’s still not certain that there will be a Big East for you to move to.

UH to get Big East invitation

Change is coming, one way or another.

UH’s hope of joining an automatic-qualifying Bowl Championship Series conference may soon come to fruition after the Big East Conference extended an invitation to UH on Monday evening.

The league extended an invitation to UH after a conference call on expansion with the Big East’s presidents and chancellors according to a person familiar with the Big East’s expansion discussions.

UH chancellor Renu Khator and athletic director Mack Rhoades will head to New York later this week to meet with Big East officials. UH officials declined comment.

If UH makes the move and leaves Conference USA, it could take effect as early as the 2013 football season and it would be for all sports.

The report that UH has already received an invitation is a bit premature, but the plan is for them to get one. There are a number of “howevers” that come with this. The first is the biggest:

The University of Missouri is heading down a path to join the Southeastern Conference, said a university official with direct knowledge of the situation.

The person said that Missouri’s decision to apply for membership to the SEC was “inevitable and imminent,” although a specific timeframe has yet to be set. Missouri’s Board of Curators will meet on Thursday and Friday at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where the process of withdrawing from the Big 12 and applying to the SEC is expected to begin. Expansion is not listed on the agenda, but there is a private session scheduled Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.

After it applies, the person said that Missouri expected “no problems” with gathering enough votes among SEC presidents for it to become a member.

What does that have to do with UH and the Big East? This:

A source with direct knowledge of the Big 12’s expansion panel’s plans told’s Andy Katz that if Missouri departs, the Big 12 still must decide if it wants to go to 10 or 12 members. The source said Louisville and West Virginia are two of the top candidates to replace Missouri if it leaves.

Needless to say, if the Big East winds up being the raided instead of the raider, their attempt to expand is likely to fall apart. The Big East did vote to double its exit fee, from $5 million to $10 million, which was supposed to be a sign that the remaining schools were committed to staying. However:

The increase is contingent on Navy and Air Force joining, said another official in the Big East who also asked to not be named because of the sensitive nature of the talks.

Not clear who’s the chicken and who’s the egg here. It should be noted that the Big XII is also targeting BYU as a replacement for Missouri, and that if they get BYU and stop at ten teams, that might be the end of the domino tumbling for now. But there’s still another factor in play.

If Louisville and West Virginia leave, Big East basketball members also could decide that the proposed football additions wouldn’t add enough value on the basketball side and look to split from the remaining football schools.

Notre Dame also will be watching these moves closely since it could decide it’s time to move to a conference, either the ACC or the Big Ten. The ACC, at 14 schools, is believed to be holding a couple of spots open in case Notre Dame decides it’s time to join a conference. Connecticut already has expressed its interest in the ACC.

All these possibilities have been out there for weeks. However, Missouri’s potential move has been viewed all along as a trigger – a much-feared one in Big East circles.

Isn’t this fun? We ought to know in a couple of days what Missouri will do. Raise your hand if you ever believed that Mizzou would someday be the linchpin for all of college football. And finally, as a reminder that the fallout from all of this extends well beyond the schools at the epicenter, UTSA will be sitting by the phone waiting for a call from C-USA in the likely but not yet inevitable event that it needs to refill its membership.

UH to the Big East?

Rumor has it.

The University of Houston could be a part of a Bowl Championship Series automatic-qualifying conference in the near future.

UH is one of six schools that the Big East Conference is targeting for expansion, a person familiar with the conference’s expansion discussions told the Chronicle on Friday.

Air Force, Boise State, Central Florida, Navy and SMU are the other schools being targeted, and the Big East’s presidents and chancellors will conduct a conference call on Monday to further discuss expansion plans, the person said. A timetable for moving forward on expansion is unclear.

UH athletic director Mack Rhoades released a statement in response to the speculation regarding the school’s athletic conference future.

“We are aware of the growing speculation regarding conference realignment and do not feel it would be appropriate to comment on the possible intentions of another league,” the statement read. “We are flattered to be mentioned as an athletics program of national importance and we are grateful for our strong traditions and the dedication of our fans, alumni, staff and student-athletes.”

Adding schools from Idaho, Colorado, and Texas would make the “Big East” about as appropriately named as the “Big XII” and the “Big Ten”, but I don’t suppose anyone cares about that. Meanwhile, Conference USA, which has three schools targeted by the Big East, and the Mountain West, which has two, went forward with its football-only merger plan as defense against that potential raid.

The two leagues expect to merge their football operations into one mega-conference that will probably have between 20 and 24 teams in it when it finally gets going in 2013.

The name? They’ll come up with one.

Will Boise State and Air Force, among others (like UH and SMU), stay? They hope.

“I’m just trying to create stability — greater stability — so we’re not talking about membership issues,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said Friday night on a conference call. Both commissioners, Thompson and Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky, said the new arrangement will provide the security that top programs need to keep them from jumping ship.

By “security” he means “money”, but there is a little more to it than that.

According to a source with direct knowledge about Boise State’s and Air Force’s situations, the conferences went ahead with the alliance when Boise State indicated to the MWC that it didn’t plan to leave the conference.

The source also said Air Force had soured on the Big East deal a bit when Army decided against joining the Big East and Navy became skeptical of the plan.


Right now, the Big East has only six schools committed to play football in the league beyond this season.

Pittsburgh and Syracuse have announced they will move to the Atlantic Coast Conference, though Big East rules require them to stay in the league for the next two seasons, and Marinatto has said he will hold the Panthers and Orange to that. However, that seems unlikely if the league can’t grow to 12 teams for next season without them.

TCU was slated to join the Big East in 2012, but the Horned Frogs reneged on that commitment and accepted an invitation to the Big 12 last week.

Trying to recruit new members has been tricky for the Big East because its remaining members might also be looking for new conference homes.

Louisville and West Virginia are possible targets for the Big 12 if it needs to replace Missouri, which is pondering a move to the Southeastern Conference, or decides to expand back to 12 teams.

Connecticut has interest in joining the ACC if it expands again, and there has been speculation about Rutgers moving, too.

Remember that only UH, SMU, and Central Florida were invited for all sports by the Big East, so Boise State and Air Force would have to find another conference for their others sports if they went with that invitation. At this point, I think you have to consider everything to be written on sand. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen next.

No SEC for A&M

For now, anyway.

The Southeastern Conference is not extending an invitation to Texas A&M to become its 13th member, but isn’t ruling out adding the Aggies in the future.

University of Florida president Dr. Bernie Machen said the conference’s presidents and chancellors met on Sunday and “reaffirmed our satisfaction with the present 12 institutional alignment.”

“We recognize, however, that future conditions may make it advantageous to expand the number of institutions in the league,” Machen said. “We discussed criteria and process associated with expansion. No action was taken with respect to any institution including Texas A&M.”

A high-ranking source within Texas A&M confirmed to ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb on Saturday the Aggies were intent on joining the Southeastern Conference. And they reportedly hoped to begin play in the league starting as soon as 2012.


An SEC official had told The New York Times ahead of Sunday’s meeting that there was still a 30 percent to 40 percent chance the Aggies would not get enough votes for an invitation. And the issue of needing to add a 14th team along with A&M remained, the newspaper reported.

“We realize if we do this, we have to have the 14th,” the SEC official said. “No name has been thrown out. This thing is much slower out of the chute than the media and blogs have made it.”

I’m sure finding a 14th won’t be too hard, though I suppose any candidates for that would need to make their desires known ahead of any invitation. Beyond that, it’s hard to say if the SEC is just saying “anything can happen” or if this is all the necessary groundwork for a future invitation. Maybe this was part of Rick Perry’s plan all along. Who knows? There’s still a meeting of the A&M Board of Regents, and the Higher Ed committee in the Lege, which may tell us more. The Trib has reaction from A&M President R. Bowen Loftin, and State Rep. Garnet Coleman brings the inevitable UH perspective.

UPDATE: Rep. Branch has canceled his hearing, though it can be rescheduled later if (when) needed. Meanwhile, the A&M Board of Regents has authorized President Bowen to explore all options, i.e., changing conferences. Finally, Rep. Coleman sends a letter to Rep. Branch advocating for UH to join the Big XII.

NCAA officially nixes high school programming on the Longhorn Network

So much for that.

The NCAA made official Thursday what most suspected would happen: It won’t allow programming involving high school athletics on university- or conference-affiliated television networks.

That means the new Longhorn Network’s plans to carry about 18 high school football games on Thursdays and Saturdays have been scuttled.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said Thursday that the NCAA staff had made the recommendation and it was approved by the governing body’s board of directors. An NCAA spokesman said that an Aug. 22 summit in Indianapolis to discuss the issue will go on as scheduled, with the topic now devoted to how to keep the new university or conference networks operating within NCAA rules.

Earlier, the Big XII had voluntarily put the kibosh on high school sports for at least a year. All of this may well be too little, too late.

Texas A&M intends to bolt the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, multiple insiders said Friday, in abruptly ending its nearly century-old league affiliation with rival Texas, and 15-year union with the Big 12, which includes longtime in-state rivals Baylor and Texas Tech. A&M has called for a telephonic regents meeting for 3 p.m. Monday to discuss “conference alignment.”

Agenda item 15 reads in part, “Authorization for the President to Take All Actions Relating to Texas A&M University’s Athletic Conference Alignment.” An A&M official said Friday night that the Aggies hope to begin play in the SEC in 2012, but it’s too early in the complex process to determine if that will happen.

A&M pushed up its regularly scheduled regents meeting from Aug. 22 apparently to stay in front of a hastily called Tuesday hearing by the Texas House Committee on Higher Education on potential league realignment. SEC school leaders also intend to meet Sunday to essentially rubber stamp A&M’s admittance, according to a Big 12 school official.

Earlier Friday, an A&M official said Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe had told A&M president R. Bowen Loftin that the Big 12 would survive without the Aggies and that UT holds the key to the long-term future of the Big 12. The A&M official added that the Big 12 believes Houston would be a viable candidate to replace the Aggies.

The Big XII says it ain’t happening, but you know how that goes. Mentioning UH in this context gets the wish machine working. Hey, you never know, maybe this year is finally the year for them. In the meantime, I’ll just watch and see if there are more dominoes to fall.

KUHA debuts Monday

KTRU is now off the air, but 91.7 on your dial won’t be dead air for much longer. KUHA, the spawn of the KUHF takeover of 91.7, begins broadcasting Monday.

KUHA Classical programs will include The Front Row, Exploring Music, Metropolitan Opera, Performance Today and From the Top plus recordings from Houston cultural institutions such as the Houston Symphony and Houston Grand Opera.

KUHF News will offer programming from NPR, American Public Media, PRI and the BBC, in addition to local news, weather and traffic.

As I said at the beginning of this saga, having a real 24-hour news station in town is good. Sacrificing KTRU to get it, especially given the gallons of effluvia elsewhere on the dial, is not. But like it or not, it’s what we’ve got now.

FCC approves KTRU sale

It’s official now.

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday approved the controversial sale of Rice University’s radio station, KTRU, to the University of Houston.

The decision comes after a group called the Friends of KTRU filed a petition and three radio listeners submitted objections hoping to scuttle the deal. They argued the sale violated FCC rules and state law because it was not in the public interest, but the FCC, in its order, said the sale was “consistent with the public interest, convenience and necessity.”


Rice student and KTRU station manager Joey Yang said he wasn’t happy with FCC decision.

“It’s disappointing in terms of the FCC preaching localism and local programming,” Yang said. “In the decision they said programming content was not their concern. It seems contradictory.”

In the petition, supporters argued that the change of format contradicted the commission’s policies promoting local programming. The FCC, however, found no grounds for the objections.

“Although the commission recognizes that the station’s program format has attracted a devoted listenership, it is well-settled policy that the commission does not scrutinize or regulate programming, nor does it take potential changes in programming formats into consideration in reviewing assignment applications,” the decision states.

You can read the FCC’s decision here. Not surprisingly, Save KTRU isn’t happy with it.

The decision shows a lack of commitment on the part of the FCC to its own public statements regarding the importance of localism and diversity in American broadcast media.

If the segment of the FM radio dial reserved for noncommercial stations is now also subject to the unobstructed machinations of the free market, it is highly likely that local voices will increasingly disappear from American broadcast radio. Indeed, evidence of such a trend is already overwhelming, and it is quite clear that market forces are promoting uniformity at the expense of diversity. Only through protection by a government agency properly enforcing its mandate to regulate this resource on behalf of the public, and thus maintaining sources of relevant locally produced programming, will such stations continue to exist and enrich the public cultural discourse of their communities.

The degree to which a station serves its local community can be evaluated independently of its particular format. We propose that in the future, the FCC not hold itself hostage to outmoded precedents running contrary to its stated goals, but instead consider and base its regulations and actions on what is truly in the public interest, to spare other communities the fate of a media bereft of meaningful local voices.

KTRU has been broadcasting on KPFT’s HD radio channel and will continue to do so. It’s not been determined yet when new station KUHC will be up and running, but according to Rocks Off, Rice and UH have ten business days to transfer the money from the sale. One way or another, the era of KTRU on 91.7 is at the end.

Higher tuition coming

Well, what did you expect?

The 63,000 students of the University of Houston System could be paying higher tuition as early as the fall semester, Chancellor Renu Khator told a Senate committee Monday.

Testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, Khator said that a tuition increase is one of a number of strategies she and her fellow administrators are considering as they grapple with a projected $81 million budget cut for the biennium.

“The item is open; let me put it this way,” she told lawmakers. She said the system’s board or regents would make a decision in April or May.

That would be in addition to whatever furloughs and pay cuts UH might need to impose as well. Though the story doesn’t suggest an amount, State Rep. Mike Villarreal suggests the increases would be in the $1000 per year range. The “Texas Century” sure is off to a roaring start.

Higher enrollment, fewer resources

I just have one question about this.

At a time of record enrollment in Texas’ colleges and universities, a state budget proposal released this week would see these institutions suffer a 7.6 percent funding cut from the last biennial budget.

University presidents called the proposed cuts, which total $1.7 billion, “dramatic” and “drastic.” The current budget was balanced on the back of higher education, which absorbed 41.5 percent of the cuts despite comprising just 12.5 percent of the budget.

This proposal for the 2010-2011 biennium, rolled out Tuesday by Texas Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, would see far less of the overall cut come from colleges and universities — but the cuts still are disproportionate, said University of Houston system president Renu Khator.

Khator and other Texas university presidents must serve rising numbers of students on falling revenue. Universities saw their combined enrollment jump 35 percent, to 557,550 students, from fall 2000 to last fall. Community colleges saw a 67 percent enrollment leap over the same period, to 720,379 students.

In what universe does this make sense? Everyone says – even the Republicans – that higher education is important, that it fuels growth, that we need to get more kids in college and more kids to graduate from college if we want Texas to be economically competitive in the future. If we actually believe that, then what the hell are we doing?

UH gets a boost in its rankings

Good news for UH:

The University of Houston’s quest to become the state’s next top tier university — a designation that would put it alongside Rice University, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University — received a major boost Tuesday.

The latest rankings from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching move UH to its highest category, for universities with “very high research activity.”

That ranking is updated every five years, based upon criteria including research expenditures, number of doctorate degrees awarded and the size of the university’s research staff.

UH previously ranked in Carnegie’s second tier, for “high research activity.”

Rice, UT-Austin and A&M are the only other Texas universities on the list, which is considered an indication of Tier One status.

That’s a nice accomplishment, which is the result of a lot of work. My congratulations to UH for achieving it, and my best wishes for completing the journey to full-fledged Tier One status.

The bad news:

[E]ven if UH were to qualify for the Tier One funding this year, it and other public colleges and universities are likely to sustain cuts — maybe significant ones — in basic state support for higher education.

That’s because the state is facing a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall, and higher education is expected to be one of the main targets for cuts.

[UH President Renu] Khator acknowledged concerns that Tuesday’s announcement could be interpreted as a sign UH doesn’t need additional money from the state.

It does, she said, and the Carnegie designation proves that it will use it wisely.

“We have shown the state that the investment is worth it,” she said.

Sadly, the state isn’t interested in making any investments right now. Dan Patrick’s property tax cuts don’t pay for themselves, you know. Better luck next biennium.