At this hour, Baylor remains the only thing keeping Texas A&M from joining the SEC. Florida President Bernie Machen, who chairs the SEC’s executive committee, said this morning that there was unanimous support to admit A&M pending the removal of any “contractual hindrances” to its departure from the Big 12. Machen indicated that one Big 12 member “had withdrawn its previous consent” and agreement not to sue A&M or the SEC for breach of contract.
Machen did not identify Baylor by name, but the school, led by President Kenneth Starr, has made no effort to hide its intentions. Baylor created a webpage that begs for public support to force A&M to stay in the Big 12. Under the headline, “Don’t Mess With Texas Football,” Baylor appeals to petty statism and invokes economic mercantilism in a pathetic attempt to keep its marginal football program sucking at the tit of more successful programs like Texas A&M and Texas.
Baylor’s appeal opens by invoking some romantic football imagery:
Nothing is more beloved in Texas than Texas football. Entire towns travel to neighboring communities on Friday nights as rivals meet under the Friday night lights; Saturday mornings find families rushing out to pee wee football games and spending their afternoons with friends tailgating or watching some of the most historic and storied football rivalries in the nation; Sunday afternoons see families gathered in living rooms across the state to cheer on the Cowboys or the Texans.
None of this has anything to do with Texas A&M joining the SEC. Moving on.
Football in Texas is more than a passing interest, it is a part of the fabric of this great state.
Will Texans stand by and watch hundred-year-old rivalries be cast aside as the state’s largest universities align themselves with other states across the country?
As of this morning, the Big 12 included schools in four states that were not Texas; last season there were six “other states” aligned with Baylor in its conference. So unless Baylor wants to recreate the old SWC, any conference it belongs to will involve some other state that’s not Texas.
As for “hundred-year-old rivalries,” A&M and Baylor may play each other every year, but it’s not much of a rivalry. Baylor has exactly two wins in the last 25 years against A&M. Is it any surprise that A&M seeks more challenging annual competition in the SEC?
Will Texans sit and watch as Texas’ flagship universities pledge their loyalties to other states?
This argument might have made sense before the United States annexed Texas in 1845, but again, as of this morning Texas is not an independent country. Every other state’s flagship schools have no problem pledging their “loyalties” to surrounding states as part of a conference. Nor is the problem here simply A&M’s desire to leave. Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas are all contemplating moves. Are these schools supposed to pledge their undying loyalty to Texas just to keep the Big 12 together?
Will Texans stand by as our most promising student athletes are lured out of Texas by new rivals?
The use of the word “lured” makes the SEC and its members sound like sexual predators. First of all, students are not slaves or indentured servants — let’s set aside the “amateurism” issue for the moment — and they are free to go to any school in any state they choose. It is not incumbent on “Texans” to stand up and build some sort of wall around the state to prevent promising football players from leaving.
More to the point, Baylor’s not worried about students being “lured out of Texas.” Baylor’s worried about students being lured away from Baylor. Most of Baylor’s roster comes from Texas, which is no surprise. If Baylor finds itself outside a major conference without the “lure” of annual games against the other Texas schools, it’s reduced to a third-tier football program. Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech won’t have any problem recruiting in-state even with greater competition from the SEC and Pac-12. Baylor can’t keep up, and they know it.
Will Texans watch as our most precious resources—the great minds of the next generation—are exported to new conference institutions?
This is the type of political argument opponents of free markets employ. It harkens back to 17th century mercantilism. It’s also telling that Baylor would openly discusses students as commodities when the NCAA goes to such great lengths to pretend student-athletes have no market value as employees.
Once again, this speaks to the core issue: Baylor knows it can’t compete in the changing college football environment. Large public institutions dominate major college football. Baylor is the only private school in the Big 12. Like Vanderbilt in the SEC and Northwestern in the Big 10, Baylor’s presence in college football’s first tier is largely a longevity prize. Baylor was a co-founder of the old SWC that was one of the Big 12′s ancestors. Aside from history, there’s no compelling reason to keep Baylor in a major conference, as the Houston Chronicle’s Richard Justice explained:
Baylor has been last in Big 12 attendance every single year. Baylor is 2-28 against Texas and Oklahoma in Big 12 play. Baylor has won more than one conference game only four times. If the Big 12 folds, Baylor has virtually no chance of getting into a BCS conference.
It’s not just attendance and revenues. Baylor’s stadium is in bad shape, and Baylor still hasn’t broken ground on a new place. Even worse, if Baylor is forced to play in Conference USA or the Mountain West, its revenues will decline dramatically.
If Baylor’s administration isn’t already subsidizing the athletics program, it will have to, and in a big way. At that point, Baylor must decide the worth of having a big-time sports program.
Baylor ends its screed by saying, “Texans must stand up and call the leadership of the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech to clear-headed thinking about the state’s future.” Yet Baylor is the only institution that’s not thinking about the future. Instead it’s obsessed with preserving a mythical past where Baylor is somehow relevant to the larger college football community.
This process began with Texas creating the Longhorn Network in an effort to maintain its chokehold over Texas A&M and other Big 12 institutions. A&M finally decided it had enough and realized the future was with the SEC. Texas and the other Big 12 schools may soon decide the future lies elsewhere as well. If and when they move on, Baylor will be consigned to the college football scrapheap, which, given this last-ditch political yodeling by Ken Starr’s administration, is exactly where the school belongs.