Baylor Bears: History Repeating, Politics and the Rise and Fall of the Big 12
Financial issues are enough to make the strong individuals and institutions pause and reflect on the situation.
Texas A&M was looking east, in particular to the Southeastern Conference, before a financial roadblock sprung up before them. There was a desire to keep together the old conference, or at least the four Texas schools—Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. In particular, it was Baylor, or at least a representative of Baylor, that rose up to challenge a potential move by the Aggies.
Allegedly, a deal was offered to Texas A&M to secure funding for a new basketball arena (Reed Arena). Not long after, those four Texas institutions merged with the Big 8 to give birth to the Big 12.
That was 1994.
It is amazing how history repeats itself.
According to multiple sources, including Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples, Baylor is once again becoming a road block to Texas A&M's move to the SEC—this time by way of legal action. But Baylor may not be able to stop the inevitable.
Jump back to 1994 and the situation that was going on with the Southwest Conference. After a decade of scandals highlighted by SMU's death penalty, the SWC was on life support. Having already lost Arkansas earlier in the 1990s, it appeared that both Texas and Texas A&M planned to move on to greener pastures, with destinations including the Pac-10, Big Ten and Big 8.
Through political wrangling by then-Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock (a Texas Tech and Baylor alum) and Vice Chair of the Senate Finance Committee David Sibley (another Baylor grad), the jump by the Aggies and the Longhorns was sabotaged.
According to Dave McNeely, Bullock threatened to cut state-appropriated funding for both Texas and Texas A&M if Baylor and Texas Tech were not included in a potential move to the Big 8. Having friends in high places helped; the heads of Texas and Texas A&M buckled and agreed to include Texas Tech and Baylor in any relocation to a new conference.
However, there was another snag—Texas A&M's desire to join the SEC. According to a 1997 article written in the San Antonio Express-News written by Russell Gold (cited here by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal), Billy Clayton, a former Texas Speaker of the House and state lobbyist, told Bullock that Texas A&M would make more money in the SEC. Bullock's reply was, "No, you're wrong about that. You need to come with us to the Big Eight."
With the funding for the arena in the balance, Texas A&M capitulated and joined the other three Texas schools in forming the Big 12.
It is worth noting that the same Gold-authored article noted that as late as 1994 Texas was considering a move to the Pac-10. However, Sibley and Bullock convinced Texas that a move out west was a bad idea and that joining the Big 12 was the right move.
In other words, understanding that a situation where Texas joined the Pac-10 and Texas A&M joined the SEC was actually a bad move for Baylor and Texas Tech.
Now, jump forward to 2010, when the first hints of realignment and expansion began. The Pac-10 desired to explode into a super conference, eyeing Big 12 teams Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. The obvious omission here is the only South Division team not on the list—Baylor.
Once again, political muscle was flexed. According to an article written in the Dallas Morning News, lobbyists for Baylor exerted enormous pressure on officials at Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech to ensure that the in-state "rivals" remained in tact. The push was for Baylor to replace Colorado in the mass exodus to the Pac-10. The move to keep the schools together apparently worked; soon after Colorado's acceptance to join the Pac-10 was announced, Texas and the four other Big 12 schools courted by the Pac-10 turned down the offer.
Baylor, again through political wrangling, was able to save its coveted status as a member of a big-time conference, in turn saving the Big 12.
Finally, let us flash forward to September 7, 2011. The SEC voted to approve the admission of Texas A&M to the conference. Texas A&M and the SEC allegedly received the all-clear from Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe that there would be no roadblocks so long as the deal was publicized by September 8, 2011.
But, apparently there was some "confusion." It seems that the all-clear was not given and that individual members of the Big 12 could pursue legal action if the Aggies do indeed move to the SEC.
The dots are not difficult to connect; it is Baylor that is becoming the hurdle in Texas A&M's path. It is also not surprising that leading the charge is Baylor president Ken Starr (he of Clinton-Lewinsky fame).
However, things are different this time around. The Chair of the Finance Committee is an A&M grad, the Lieutenant Governor is an outsider (an Arizona alum) and Governor Rick Perry (who is also a candidate for the Republican nominee for president) graduated from Texas A&M. While there are Baylor connections in the Texas legislature, there is no one in the top ranks.
Additionally, Colorado, the team that Starr and other Baylor supporters attempted to block from moving to the Pac-10, is officially a member of the Pac-12, as is Utah. Should the Pac-12 decide to expand once again, the likely candidates would be Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, the SEC has not shown any public interest in acquiring Baylor. Thus, Baylor may be left on the outside looking in.
Baylor is not interested in the Big 12. They are only looking out for the best interests of Baylor University and rightfully so. The problem here is that Baylor has attempted to play politics and force their way into the party. As Andy Staples pointed out in 2010, Baylor is more interested in remaining with the Texas schools of the Big 12, as well as the Oklahoma institutions, regardless of the conference.
When all the dust settles, Baylor will end up in which of the following conferences?
But the overtures of keeping Texas football together seem to be falling on deaf ears. It is somewhat laughable that the website for Baylor University hosts a page entitled "Don't Mess With Texas Football." The message is to encourage the leaders of the three public universities to "take a stand for Texas and to stop this madness that will lead to the dissolution of the Big 12 and the end of an era for Texas."
End of an era? Where was this concern in 1994 when Baylor and Texas Tech lobbyists pushed for their inclusion in the Big 12 while Houston, Rice, SMU and TCU were left behind? If Baylor is really concerned about football in the state of Texas, why is there not a push to create a new era of football in the state with the re-creation of a Southwest Conference that includes all the old members, plus North Texas and UTEP?
It is because Baylor is only looking out for Baylor. But, this time, the politics that helped form the Big 12 in 1994 and keep it together in 2010 appear to be lacking. This time, no one can save Baylor. It appears that when the dust settles, the Bears will be on the outside of the power conferences.
Perhaps it is ironic that the largest Baptist university in the country is about to experience a concept from Hinduism and Buddhism—karma. Through coercion, Baylor was there to help kick-start the Big 12.
Perhaps it is fitting that they will be there when it all falls down.
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