Texas-sized vacancy: Senate holds hearing on UT, OU’s Big 12 departure
Not a week had passed since the University of Texas’ move to the Southeastern Conference alongside the University of Oklahoma was approved before Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby on Monday faced over a dozen Texas lawmakers wanting to know: Where does the conference go from here?
Bowlsby was followed by officials from the three remaining Texas institutions in the Big 12 –– Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech –– who were all peppered with questions ranging from television contracts, future plans, past politicking in the formation of the Big 12 and the economic impact. The discussion was all part of a six-hour Senate hearing put on by the Future of College Sports committee
Also still at the front of the minds of several lawmakers, officials and Bowlsby was the lack of transparency by UT and OU as the arch rivals were unanimously approved by the SEC’s member institutions just nine days after the Houston Chronicle first reported the initial developments.
“Were you aware of any ongoing conversations or discussion at any level with any organization, including ESPN and the NCAA, about a potential move?” Lubbock Republican Sen. Charles Perry asked Bowlsby.
“I was not aware of anything prior to that day,” Bowlsby said.
During his opening remarks, Bowlsby said, “The two that are leaving have done so without notification to us and with no accounting for their reasons. If the inclusion of OU and UT in the SEC is intended to disrupt intercollegiate athletics, it will certainly accomplish that.”
After being pressed by Perry, and some vague back-and-forth, UT President Jay Hartzell disclosed that they reached out to the SEC in the spring.
Perry, a former Red Raider, argued that the Legislature has a vested interest in monitoring activities that impact the state, adding that he plans on introducing legislation that UT will not welcome.
“If you are as big and great as you think you are, you should have made the Big 12 equal or better than the SEC and you didn’t do it,” Perry said. “I kind of feel sorry for the SEC. Cousin Eddie is coming home and he don’t leave until he’s wrecked the whole house.”
As lawmakers tried to grasp the economic impact of UT and OU’s departure, Bowlsby revealed that of the $28 million in TV revenue generated by the Big 12 each year, up to 50% of that value is embedded in UT and OU, meaning the move could cost the conference $14 million per year in TV revenue alone.
Analysis from Ray Perryman, the CEO of Perryman Group in Waco, projects a total loss of roughly $1.3 billion a year in annual gross product, affecting athletic revenue, tourism and economic benefits for affected communities, if the Big 12 dissolves. Even if the Big 12 conference survives and potentially expands, projections from Perryman clear $900 million a year.
The annual distribution for Big 12 schools has ranged between $35-$40 million –– in TCU’s final season in the Mountain West Conference, before joining the Big 12, TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donati said their payout was roughly $5 million.
Mack Rhoades, the athletic director at Baylor who said the developments from the last two weeks clouds plans for their $125 million basketball arena, delivered more targeted remarks toward UT.
“Many of my colleagues around the country believe that Texas created this situation because they think so highly of themselves,” Rhoades said. “I completely disagree. I think it’s because they felt too little of themselves.”
As for Houston Democratic Sen. John Whitmire, he argued that this isn’t quite the “doom and gloom” that the remaining Big 12 schools are claiming it is, all while making a push for the University of Houston to receive an invitation to fill Texas’ vacancy.
Whitmire, a Houston graduate, also noted that Cougars were cut out of the Big 12 while persistently asking officials from Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU throughout the hearing why Houston has been boxed out of the conference.
“I’ve heard it repeatedly this afternoon that the world is coming to an end for the three institutions in Texas because two powerhouses are leaving,” Whitmire said. “I recognize, I do, the impact. But I also would suggest that there is an opportunity there.”
Whitmire later shared an exchange with Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec about the role recruiting has played in leaving Houston out of the Big 12.
“Y’all get a lot of our high school ball players,” Whitmire said. “You wouldn’t dare suggest, like I will, that this is one of your concerns … in the future, if Houston was in the Big 12, they might stay at home near momma and get the same coverage they get at your campus, Baylor or TCU.”
Schovanec replied, “We are competitive, we are. That enters into the discussion.”
McAllen Democratic Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a University of Texas-Pan American graduate, asked Baylor President Linda Livingstone if Baylor depends too much financially on UT. Livingstone, like several other officials, said it’s the combination of programs such as UT and OU along with the rest of the conference.
“Do you think UT ought to be chained to the Big 12?” Hinojosa asked. Livingstone answered: “I’m not saying that UT should be chained to any conference. I believe that the way in which a transition like this occurs matters.”
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a TCU graduate from Brenham, also said she was “done” with the doom and gloom.
“If the University of Texas wants to leave, goodbye,” Kolkhorst said. Kolkhorst showed enthusiasm toward the potential for the remaining Texas schools in the Big 12, noting that fans would welcome trips to competitions on the West or East Coast.
“I think our eyes need to be set on the future. I know that Gov. Greg Abbott does not want to go from five power conference schools to two,” Kolkhorst said. “That’s moving backwards, that’s not moving forward. I think we can put together a package that puts us in a new direction that does pack our stadiums. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have an obligatory game with the Aggies or Longhorns every once in a while.”