College Football

What is next on the college football expansion landscape?

Can Major Applewhite continue the Cougars' on-field success and help Houston raise the bar in the AAC? Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

At this time last year, the Big 12 was soliciting candidates for expansion. It turned into a big tease, and no expansion happened. In reality, it probably never will. 

Never mind how the Big 12 has lost the Houston market to the SEC, is top heavy, and has too many small-market programs. As long as Texas and OU are in the fold, they feel they have enough cache to carry on. And it's hard to argue with that.

So, what happens to Houston, which dumped tons of money into facilities, a new state-of-the-art stadium and continues to have on-field success and strong ratings in the nation's fourth-largest city?

There are really only three options:

1. Help raise up the American Conference

The AAC is pushing the "Power Six" narrative, and it's probably a little forced. Still, there are some solid programs. UH, Temple, Navy, South Florida, Central Florida and Memphis are all borderline Power Five type programs, and better than a lot of the bottom feeders in the other conferences. Miami lifted the Big East to then-BCS status, while Florida State did the same for the ACC.

If one program can emerge as a solid year-in, year-out TCU type program, it could elevate the AAC's profile just enough. The conference has to find a way to keep its coaches, losing several talented ones over the last two years to Power Fives, but this is the most likely path to big boy football.

2. AAC expansion

Boise already bolted once, but raiding the top four schools in the Mountain West — most likely Boise, San Diego State, Air Force and Colorado State and going to 16 teams — would add depth and quality throughout, and another potentially transcendent program in Boise. The rest of the conference has fallen off, so this might have some appeal to Boise this time around.

A better option would be adding BYU, but the Cougars seem content on staying independent. If they changed their mind, knowing — like UH — the Big 12 is never happening, then all the better.

3. Go west, young men

The Pac-12 seems content where it is, but adding a major foothold in Texas would make sense. Picking up the Houston TV market (or at least a significant share; the SEC is pretty entrenched) would be a coup. The problem? Who is a viable second candidate to get to an even number? There is no easy answer. The Pac-12 needs to figure something out regarding its TV network as well.

It all really comes down to which major conference wants to make the jump to 16 first and pick off the few viable candidates out there. If they want to do that. The SEC, ACC and Big 10 all seem pretty stable and unlikely to move. The Pac-12 is probably the only option, if it is one at all. 

So the reality for UH is probably answer No. 1. That means continued success on the field; other teams emerging, like South Florida; and other programs joining the arms race and spending money. That might be the best path longterm.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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