Houston president authorized to pursue contract
HOUSTON (AP) -- The University of Houston's board of regents voted unanimously Thursday night to give Chancellor and President Renu Khator authority to negotiate a contract to move the Cougars into a more lucrative league, likely the Big East.
The regents met for about 90 minutes in executive session before a 9-0 vote. Khator, who is visiting Israel on business, joined the meeting via Skype.
The Big East is considering adding Houston, along with fellow Conference USA members SMU and Central Florida for all sports, and Boise State, Navy and Air Force for football only. The Big East offers an automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series, something that Conference USA does not.
"We talked through it in every detail," board of regents chairwoman Nelda Luce Blair said. "We are very, very proud of our chancellor, and we know she has the great ability to do everything possible to send this university forward even more. We are a tier-1 university, we plan to stay that way, we plan to grow even stronger, and our athletics are a large part of that."
The regents convened about two hours before the No. 18 Cougars were playing Rice at nearby Robertson Stadium.
"We certainly want to thank chairperson 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 interest of our student-athletes," athletics director Mack Rhoades said.
Houston is a founding member of Conference USA, which was created in 1995 from the merger between the Metro and Great Midwest conferences. The Cougars were left out when the Big 8 merged with four Texas schools in the Southwest Conference to form the Big 12 in 1996.
A new wave of conference realignment this summer has sent the Big East scrambling for survival.
Syracuse and Pittsburgh bolted this year to join the Atlantic Coast Conference and TCU, scheduled to join in 2012, backed out to join the Big 12. Louisville and West Virginia are now also mentioned as possible defectors to the Big 12, and there's no guarantee that the Big East will even keep its automatic-qualifying status beyond 2013, when the current BCS television and bowl contracts run out.
Blair said the board had "a lot of questions" in the executive session.
"We don't have any followers on this board, they're all leaders," she said. "Every one of them has deep questions. They want to know how we're going to do this, what it's going to do to the university, what it's going to cost. There aren't any firm answers yet, because the contracts aren't fully negotiated. But at least we've got some parameters, and the board was very satisfied to give that authority to Renu Khator."
Earlier Thursday, Boise State President Bob Kustra had an informative meeting with Big East executives, including commissioner John Marinatto and Nick Carparelli, the league's senior associate commissioner. Big East officials met on Wednesday with Air Force officials in Colorado.
Blair would not reveal specific contract parameters that Khator will try to negotiate, nor would she reveal which conferences she'll be targeting.
"We have authorized Chancellor Khator to evaluate opportunities and options that may become available to the University of Houston, with the understanding that any change in our conference affiliation must match our tier-1 aspirations," Blair said. "2011 has been a remarkable year, and we will not pursue any opportunities that do not advance these goals and ensure our continued progress and success."
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