Realignment Chronicles: Larry Scott, Kill This Deal



An open letter to the commissioner of the Pac 10 Conference...

Larry,

I can't tell you how thrilled I was, as a University of Texas alum, supporter and booster when I learned on Thursday that the Pac 10 Conference was prepared to invite six schools -- Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado -- to join your conference.

I've been following conference realignment for a while now, and I believe that a Big XII implosion is inevitable and that Texas will need to find itself a new home.  The current staring match between Texas and Nebraska -- who will blink first, accept another conference's invitation and take the inevitable blame for "breaking up the Big XII" --is just the latest manifestation of this inevitability. Even if, somehow, someway, the Big XII survives the next month or so, it isn't long for this world.

I've been an advocate of a move to the Big 10, but, at the end of the day, I would be satisfied with a move to either the Big 10 or the Pac 10, the two athletically-compatible conferences which would offer academic upgrades for UT.  One reason I've supported a move to the Big 10 was from the belief that geography and the reality of Pac 10 conference politics would prevent the Pac 10 from being able to make an attractive enough offer.

But, lo and behold, you did it.  You've stunned the college world and have put together a package which can only be described as the "blank check" package for Texas.  You must really, really want us.  You're even OK with Texas Tech, and no one who has followed the intricacies of realignment politics believed that the Pac 10 would accept Tech and its Tier 3 academic ranking, given the requirement of unanimous approval from existing Pac 10 members (Stanford!)  to accept a new school.

I understand that you're "swallowing" Tech because Texas has a "Tech Problem," with "Tech Problem" presumably being shorthand for the political reality that pro-Tech forces in the Texas Legislature will require that Tech be allowed to come along with Texas into whatever conference we join.  Had I known from the get-go that the Tech Problem was a reality instead of a mere possibility, I doubt that I would have become the realignment-obsessed nerd that I am, given that I wouldn't have thought that either the Pac 10 or the Big 10 would take us.  I would have been too depressed at either of the two likely end-game results: staying in a decrepit Big XII or becoming the westernmost school of the SEC.  Shoot me now.

You seem to have accepted and overcome the Tech Problem, though, and for that, we are grateful, because doing so has allowed you to offer a package which seems to come close to solving the various concerns of athletic and academic compatibility, geography, rivalry maintenance and politics which Texas needs in an ideal situation.  So, congratulations to the Pac 10 for (presumably) being prepared to make this offer.

Now it is still possible that the Big 10 would match, and swallow hard and take Tech as well, and throw in a sweetener of a guaranteed annual game against Notre Dame if the Irish could also be convinced to join.  If Texas had that offer on the table as well, given the probable increase of hundreds of millions of dollars annually in research dollars available through the CIC, the Big 10 could still win the big prize on the table.  But I realize that a number of Big 10-centric observers of realignment think it improbable that the Big 10 would accept Tech.  We shall see.

Unfortunately, rumors are circulating that Texas state politics might force the Pac 10 to accept Baylor instead of Colorado.  Pro-Baylor forces within the Texas Legislature are being rallied by BU Regent and prominent Austin lobbyist Buddy Jones to force the other Texas schools considering invites to the Pac 10 to force the conference to take Baylor as well, or else, presumably, risk not receiving legislative backing for making a move.

In other words, allow Baylor to come along, or we'll make you stay behind in a conference which may be destined to become the SS SWC II after expansion efforts by other conferences take serious bites out of the Big XII, and the conference is forced to replace schools like Nebraska, Mizzou and Colorado with the likes of  TCU and UTEP and Houston.

The Dallas Morning News has obtained some emails written by Jones, and one of those emails indicates Jones' belief that Texas is solidly in Baylor's corner.  If true, I am very disappointed to learn this, even if UT's supposed backing of Baylor has been accomplished by a gun to the back of the school's head.

If Baylor's supporters in the Legislature are able to pull this off, and you're forced to contemplate a six-team expansion which includes Baylor but not Colorado, I have one plea for you:

Kill this deal.

Do you really want a goddamned lobbyist dictating to Stanford and Cal, and all of the other fine academic institutions of the Pac 10, and Arizona State, that a gnat of a school no one (and I mean NO ONE) wants in the Pac 10 is the price you have to pay to get Texas?

Baylor offers nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  It is a mere leech.  Well, OK, it seems to offer one thing: political expediency for the mass of pro-Texas, pro-A&M and pro-Tech legislators who seem to lack the testicular fortitude from preventing this from happening.

Despite what our school's leadership might say, fans of Texas do not want Baylor tagging along.  [Author's Note: please, readers of BON, if I am misrepresenting anyone's position with that sentence, please chime in!] And I would guess that UT's administration really doesn't want Baylor either.  There's a reason why Texas and Texas A&M originally thought that they, and they alone, would be leaving the SWC to join the schools of the Big 8.  I would also guess, given the surprise inclusion of Tech, that backroom negotiations had already worked out the optimal solution from UT's perspective with the original leaked group of six teams.

I don't presume to speak for Aggies and Red Raiders and Sooners and such, but I cannot imagine that any of them are really thrilled.  And if those who participate on message boards are good indicators for the general feelings among a school's fanbase as a whole, you would have been shocked to see how quickly opinion switched from being almost universally positive (Colorado!) to negative (Baylor?!?) among your conference's schools once news of the proposed forced substitution emerged.

Entering the Pac 10 this way would be bad for Texas.  Things didn't exactly get off on the right foot in the Big XII with the perception that Texas forced the schools of the Big XII to accept such an lightweight like Baylor.   (Well, that, and forcing Nebraska to recognize that things like "academic standards for institutions of higher learning" should actually exist.  But that's another story...)  And don't be fooled for a minute that you wouldn't be setting Texas up for long-term resentment by the existing schools of the Pac 10 if we force you to take Baylor.

I can easily see this in my mind, LA Coliseum, circa 2023:

USC Fan #1: (Looks at scoreboard, sees USC beating Baylor 65-3) Remind me again why this piece of garbage school is even on the same playing field as us?

USC Fan #2: Because Texas made us take 'em.

USC Fan #1: That's right.  I thought I disliked Texas after that Vince Young game, but it went to a whole other level after Baylor was forced on us.  I've always hated them since then.

Don't set up inherent instability in the conference because Texas forced the Pac 10 to take Baylor.  Kill it.  Tell Texas: "We solved the Tech Problem for you.  But you have to solve the Baylor Problem on your own.  Then we'll talk."

I think this would be great for Texas.  Texas would have, in its hand, a real-life, tangible example of how the Legislature, in a language the Legislature could understand (football!) is screwing Texas yet again, attaching unnecessary shackles which prevent the school from being the absolute best it could be.  A few years ago, Paul Burka, perhaps the best political reporter in Texas, wrote a great article for Texas Monthly, criticizing the Legislature for its failing to properly take care of the state's two flagship universities.

Though some of the details have changed in the years since Burka wrote that article, some of his words still ring very true today, particularly in light of what the Legislature is trying to force Texas to accept with Baylor:

But too much goes for pork barrel (legislators covet new satellite campuses of major universities in their districts) and too little for excellence.

the Legislature's preference for broad-based mediocrity over excellence is all too clear

But if you live in places like Houston or Dallas or San Antonio or Lubbock or El Paso, or represent one of them in the Legislature, an economic boom in Austin or College Station doesn't interest you very much. You want that flagship in your own back yard, transforming your economy, raising your standard of living.

Words all too easily applied to the situation at hand.  Supporters of Baylor would rather see the "broad-based mediocrity" of remaining in a dying and academically inferior conference than allowing Texas (and A&M and Tech) thrive for the long-term in a superior conference.

Please, Larry, implore your universities' presidents to do the right thing -- the right thing for you, and the right thing for us -- and kill this deal.  Don't let us do this to you.

Sincerely,

Hopkins Horn

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