As has been expected for a couple of days now, multiple reports on Monday night indicated that the Big East Conference formally extended an invitation to the University of Houston.
One sticking point for UH was reported to be whether or not the conference's current member schools would vote to raise the exit fee from $5 million to $10 million, which apparently also officially happened on Monday night. The primary reason for this is Louisville's flirtation with the Big XII, which will be looking to expand in the near future after Missouri reportedly chose to leave for the SEC on Monday.
While the Big East isn't a very good geographic fit for the Cougars, the most important aspect is that Houston will now be a member of a BCS automatic qualifying conference. The conference change will also result in a significantly larger athletics revenue for the school.
There has been some concern over the Big East being able to maintain it's AQ status in football, as the conference was already widely considered the weakest AQ conference even before Pittsburgh and Syracuse left for the ACC. However, the Orange hasn't had a 10-win season since 2001, and Pitt has never won the conference outright, so it's not like those two schools were the ones carrying the banner in the first place. The addition of Houston (currently #19 in the BCS rankings), and potentially SMU and Boise State (among others) should cement the conference's automatic bid for years to come.
The move would also put Houston in one of the nation's premier conferences for men's basketball. That may be a scary proposition for a team coming off a 4-12 campaign in Conference USA, but recruiting has already been on a major uptick as of late, and the conference change will give local kids even more reason to stay close to home. In hoops, the Coogs will be able to claim a more prestigious conference affiliation than either Texas-Austin or Texas A&M.
There could certainly be some growing pains, but getting out of a conference that gets two NCAA bids in a good year will be a huge plus in the long run.
The only sport where the Cougars would actually suffer a setback would be baseball, where Conference USA (along with the Big West) is considered a power conference, and the Big East (along with the Big Ten) is not.
Once the school makes the move official, I certainly hope that Mack Rhoades, and Rice AD Rick Greenspan move quickly to ensure that the two schools will continue to meet on a yearly basis in all major sports. Let's show the rest of the country that we're classier than Texas/A&M, Missouri/Kansas, et al.