[University of Houston president Renu] Khator isn’t satisfied and wants to get Houston into the Big-12, declaring that “we have no choice but to keep becoming better so we could get into the Big Five.” And if not, she added, it would be “difficult for Houston to sustain” its athletics program.Of course not. The logic of rent-seeking is that each rent-seeker is prepared to spend up to the expected value of the rents in quest of the rents. Thus, when two new memberships in a power conference open up (just watch, we will see four major conferences of sixteen teams each before this is done), there might be multiple aspirants to those rents. "After all, with 17 programs in the running to join the Big 12 this time around, at least 15 institutions are guaranteed not to receive an invitation."
That’s where we get the “arms race,” since many other universities are similarly trying to improve so they can outshine all the rest and get into a power conference. Huge sums are diverted away from academic programs and into stratospheric salaries for coaches, state-of-the-art facilities for the athletes, bigger and better stadiums, and so on.
But it would be a mistake to think that this only affects a small number of big schools that are at the top of the athletics food chain.
But large student fees to support sports the students don't watch (sometimes because they're juggling jobs and making use of on-campus food pantries) have changed some minds in higher education about staying in the athletic positional arms race.