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Political maneuvering begins as SEC expansion buzz continues

Does anyone in Texas have the political clout to keep the Longhorns in the Big 12? Ann Richards and Bob Bullock aren’t walking through that door.

General Views Of The Texas Capital As The City Expands

More than 24 hours after the explosive report from the Houston Chronicle rocked the college football world by breaking the news that the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners are ready to abandon the Big 12 in favor of a move to the SEC, the forward momentum hasn’t stopped.

But one key detail about what prompted Texas and Oklahoma to pursue options beyond the 27-year conference emerged with Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman reporting that the Big 12 asked its member institutions to sign a five-year extension of their television rights. The Longhorns are expected to formally decline that request next week.

Then, in an important development on Thursday evening, an emergency Big 12 conference call discussing Wednesday’s news did not include leaders from Texas and Oklahoma, seemingly a strong indicator of how close the schools are to making the jump to the SEC.

Coming out of that call, Big 12 leaders are hopeful they can find some way to appease Texas and Oklahoma, likely a futile task.

For Big 12 schools on the verge of trying to salvage a conference that may finally receive its death knell, there isn’t much to say publicly except to impotently express their disappointment about getting left behind, as the Texas Tech chancellor did on Thursday evening.

The true hopes of keeping Texas from acting in its own best interests — the same thing that Mitchell is promising for Texas Tech — rest with politicians as the usual suspects desperately cling to their hard-won positions in the Big 12.

Almost 30 years ago, Baylor and Texas Tech managed to sneak into the Big 12 thanks to political pressure from governor Ann Richards and lieutenant governor Bob Bullock. As the Southwest Conference and Big 8 engaged in talks to create the Big 12, Bullock famously met with leaders from Texas and Texas A&M and threatened to withhold state funds if Baylor and Texas Tech weren’t included. He got his way.

But now those schools don’t have the same type of political clout at the highest levels of Texas politics — there’s no Ann Richards to save Baylor and Texas Tech and there’s no Bob Bullock, either. Texas A&M alum Rick Perry is no longer in the governor’s mansion to help the Aggies sabotage their old rivals from joining the SEC. His cronies no longer serve on the UT Board of Regents.

And that’s an important consideration with several Texas legislators publicly announcing their willingness to meddle in the affairs of the state’s flagship university.

District 67 representative Jeff Leach fired an early salvo, indicating his intentions to draft legislation that would force legislative approval for Texas to move to the SEC.

Beyond the irony of a supposedly small government conservative demanding oversight over the choices that Texas makes in its conference alignment, it’s difficult to imagine that legislation ever becoming law.

Governor Greg Abbott is, of course, a Texas alum and vocal supporter of Longhorns athletics — he’s unlikely to even put such legislation on the agenda during the special session and the next regular session isn’t until 2023.

The Higher Education Committee in the House of Representatives is unlikely to take a page from Bullock’s playbook with Texas alum Jim Murphy serving as the chair.

Those power dynamics mean that chancellors like Mitchell can express their disappointment publicly and attempt to maneuver privately by putting pressure on legislators like Lubbock’s representative, Dustin Burrows, but Burrows didn’t even go as far as Leach in his Wednesday afternoon tweets on the subject, though there was a vague funding threat made.

So while it’s more than mildly shocking to type this, Texas and Oklahoma moving to the SEC feels like something close to an inevitability with Texas A&M seemingly gaining little traction in its attempts to secure three other votes to keep the conference from extending an invitation to the Big 12’s premier programs. In fact, it’s not even clear that Missouri would join them.

And that’s left Aggies with little more to do than twist themselves in pretzels attempting to explain how not scared they are about Texas joining the SEC.

As a coping mechanism, it must feel so necessary in large part because there’s no indication that anyone interested in stopping Texas and Oklahoma from moving to the SEC actually has the power to do so, a development that seems as remarkable as any part of this fast-developing saga.