At this point, Houston's odds of getting a Big East invitation seem strong. Based on everything that's been reported, Villanova is not ready to move up and take the tenth spot. Some of their alums would love nothing better, but the cost may be prohibitive, and it's doubtful that the powers that be at the school (largely Catholic priests) really want the move; in fact, the president, a Father Peter, who reportedly has a great deal of influence with board members, is said to be opposed to it. After Villanova, most media outlets agree the choice would be down to either UH or UCF.
Why would UH get the nod? Three major reasons give Houston an advantage, and those are TV market, facilities, and recruiting. There are other factors in UH's favor as well, but those may be the three biggest. That is not to say that UCF doesn't have positives as well. The school is also located in a large market, it has a relatively new football stadium, its football and basketball programs are strong at this point, and football averages close to 40k. Both bring something to the table, but what Houston brings may look more appetizing to the movers and shakers in the Big East.
The Big East undoubtedly wants the best TV deal it can get, and the best way to ensure that is to secure footholds in the biggest markets available. Houston's designated market area encompasses close to six million people. Orlando's is a little over two million. Unless one uses fuzzy math, that means Houston has some three times as many viewers as Orlando. Additionally, with Houston and TCU, the Big East would have a presence (football and basketball) in seven, yes, seven, of the ten largest media markets in the U. S. And UH does do well in the Houston market when it plays a game of significance. The Houston-Texas Tech contest was the eighth-highest rated college football game in Houston in 2009, ahead of Texas-Missouri, Texas-Colorado, LSU-Florida, and any game involving Texas A&M aside from the Aggie-UT game. And every game rated in the top 15 in Houston in ‘09 was on ABC, CBS, or ESPN except for UH-Tech, which was on ESPN2. If expanding market share is a major consideration, and everything suggests that it is, Houston wins that contest hands down.
Two, facilities are extremely important. At this point, UH lags behind UCF because of the two major venues, but the good news for Cougar fans is that when, not if, the new stadium is built, UH will have the advantage. Keep in mind that UCF's football venue, Bright House Networks Stadium, isn't exactly the Taj Mahal. The best thing it has going for it is that it's fairly new. But the stadium only cost $55 million to build, and it looks a little like Robertson's end-zone sections painted white and wrapped around in a bowl design. Houston is spending approximately 50% more for its stadium (though some of that is due to inflation), which will be a nicer facility. And then UH has the AAC. It's interesting to hear people slam the Cougars' facilities and then hear recruits back from visits saying how impressed they were with them. Without question, UH needs a new stadium, but the AAC is as fine a facility as one will find at most any college. Admittedly, the university isn't there yet with its fundraising, but once the new stadium is built, UH takes the lead in both media market and facilities.
Third, it's fairly obvious that TCU was invited because the Big East is concerned about its legitimacy as one of the six AQ conferences. The league is unlikely to have a team finish in the Top 25 this season. Frankly, the odds of the Big East ever becoming another SEC are about a thousand to one, but there's no good reason why a league with TCU, West Virginia, Pitt, and other solid programs can't be on par with the ACC--or maybe even the Big 12-2. Probably the best way to fix the conference's perception as a weak sister is to recruit better players. For the most part, the Northeast, where many Big East schools are located, is lacking in the kind of high school talent needed to improve the league. That is a major reason why upstart South Florida was invited to the Big East in 2004, so that conference schools would retain recruiting ties to Florida after Miami left for the ACC. Last year, Rutgers signed nine players from Florida, some 40% of their class. Somewhere between 20% to 30% of the players recruited by West Virginia and Connecticut last year hailed from the Sunshine State. Adding a school 100 miles down the road from USF doesn't do a lot to increase the league's exposure. But what if Big East programs continued to sign players from Florida and were able to bolster their classes with players from the richest recruiting range in the country, Texas? New West Virginia head-coach-in-waiting Dana Holgerson has said WVU would sell Texas players on how little difference there is between going to, say, a Missouri or Kansas as opposed to a Big East school. So what if one's flight lasts an additional hour? With TCU in the league, Big East schools get immediate access to Metroplex players. Add UH, which, of course, is in another region in the nation's largest state, and more than likely, Greater Houston along with East Texas come even more into play for schools like UConn and Syracuse.
There are other factors in Houston's favor. The school's leadership, both overall and in athletics, seems very competent and has ties to athletic administrators at Big East schools. UH has tradition in football and basketball that UCF, a school that just started playing football at the major college level 14 years ago, can‘t come close to matching. Houston has been a national power in both sports and conceivably could be again, especially if the Cougars played in a major conference. While the Knights did well this year in football, UH has won more games than UCF over the past five seasons. In basketball, Houston has been to the NCAA Tournament, the NIT twice, and made two CBI appearances since UCF joined C-USA. The Knights have not appeared in any postseason tournament since becoming a conference member. Finally, it would seem that some Big East schools want Houston, while at least one or two definitely do not want UCF. South Florida sees them as a threat to their recruiting base and growth as a program. One can never accurately predict just how conference realignment will go down. Recall that ESPN had the Big 12-PAC 10 story wrong on the day UT decided against leaving the conference. But putting everything together, the Cougars' chances for a Big East invitation seem at least as good and actually better than anyone else the league could get.