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Conference Realignment and the Texas Legislature

A lot of posters have predicted that the Texas state legislature will play a determining role in a future realignment involving UT and TAMU.


They claim that UT can’t leave without taking Texas Tech and Baylor.  This claims are based on the last realignment, when state power brokers like Bob Bullock and David Sibley ensured that Tech and Baylor went to the Big 12 (the Big 8 was ambivalent about them).  Note- people keep writing that Governor Ann Richards made a place for Baylor, despite all the repeated denials by all participants of her having a role.

 Could the legislature (or more precisely, elected power brokers) drive this again?  I don’t think they will play as much of a role this time.  

Here’s why:

 1.  In the early ‘90s, the legislature had significant financial power over UT and TAMU.  The flagship schools of this great state have billions in PUF resources, but very strong constraints on spending that money.  For example, defined PUF money can only be spent on construction (this rule has been stretched to allow the purchase of land and expensive equipment for those building projects).  Note- UT and TAMU never use PUF money to build athletics facilities.

 The state funds a significant percentage of the schools’ annual ongoing expenses, and sets the tuition rates.  This creates a biannual negotiation with the legislature.  The difference between now and 16 years ago is that the percentage of annual expenses the state pays has dropped from over 30% to less than 20% (the total amount in non-inflation adjusted dollars has risen slightly).  A significant amount of the state’s funding is directed at specific academic programs, and not the general fund.

 If the state cuts UT’s and TAMU’s funding, it would force the schools to request a sizable tuition jump.  Nobody wants this, right?  Wrong.  One of UT’s biggest problems is that it has almost no discretionary control of admissions- most of its freshman class consists of automatic high school Top 10% (soon to be Top 8%) admissions.  A significant rise in tuition costs would reduce the number of kids who want to enroll at Texas.  This would create one problem for Texas, but solve another.

 There has been talk that the state may take part or all of the PUF away from UT and TAMU.  They could try, but they will have one hell of a fight on their hands if they try.  And remember, with its Law School, UT gets to sue for free.

 2.  It took a deal worked out in advance by power brokers in the early ‘90s to create the Big 12, because the SWC was killed by it.  The conference was dying anyway, and somebody had to perform triage on the members.  This time is different.  As NateHeupel notes, a raided Big 12 is still a BCS conference.  As a matter of fact, it would be a BCS conference with several openings.  The Waco and West Texas legislators can try to keep Texas and TAMU in, but the FW and Houston legislators will be fighting harder to let the flagship schools go, knowing that TCU and UH will be up for promotion to the Big 12, and BCS status.  See?  Everybody wins!

 I am not willing to predict what will happen.  I don’t know all of the deals in play, or all of the powerbrokers with an interest.  None of know who will actually will be calling the shots if and when it goes down (how different would the Big 12 be if Fort Worth native Gib Lewis had still been speaker in ’94?).  I just want to note that you can’t just say, “The legislature won’t let Texas or Texas A&M leave”.  There are different players at the table than there were in 1994, and the hands they hold are different.

 I suspect UT does not wish to initiate change.  Any conference change proposal for UT and TAMU will probably be preceded by other major changes, making it obvious that the Big 12 is less desirable to the schools.  Something will probably be worked out about UH and TCU joining the Big 12 (along with Utah and BYU?) and maybe about future scheduling between Texas Tech and Texas, and Texas A&M and Baylor.  The whole thing would be presented as a win/win for the state.