Starr: “Take the time to listen” before conference realignment

Editor’s note: The following is a guest column written by Baylor president Ken Starr and first published in the Waco Tribune-Herald. Read the column on the Tribune-Herald website here.

By Ken Starr
President, Baylor University

When I assumed the presidency of Baylor University 14 months ago, I would never have guessed that one of the most significant challenges we would face as an institution would be the future health and unity of the Big 12 conference. Of course we celebrated with all Texans when the agreements were signed last year assuring a vigorous future for the Big 12, including even stronger ties between Texas A&M, the University of Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor University. As a result of our decision last year to stay united, there will be additional television revenue to undergird all of the athletic and academic programs of the Big 12 institutions.

Yet, last week we learned of plans that would tear A&M from the fiber of the Big 12 and place them within the SEC where they would no longer compete with their sister institutions from the Lone Star state.

Let me be perfectly clear, Baylor continues to fully support the Big 12.

We especially appreciate our fellow Texas institutions in the conference and the special rivalries that entertain and energize our respective alumni. Now, in a formation that includes an incredibly strong regional association of ten schools, four of whom represent the state of Texas, we believe that the Big 12 is one of the nation’s foremost athletic conferences.

For Texas, strong connections between rival Big 12 institutions produce income and jobs and help with student recruitment, both by keeping students in our state and by bringing others into our fold. And, of course, there is the great pride that we feel as Texans when our teams dominate the national collegiate athletics landscape as they did during the past year.

As we saw last summer, there are many in the Texas legislature who understand the economics associated with a strong and unified Texas presence in a dominant athletic conference. Our elected officials are again taking notice of a flurry of activity relative to the Big 12 and have called for hearings this week to discuss college athletics. We believe such conversations are certain to conclude that it is in the best interest of our state that the four Texas schools of the Big 12 stay together.

Texas A&M has expressed concern with the launch of the Longhorn television network. A number of us have expressed concern, but that concern calls for conversation, not calls to other conferences.

In the spirit of the venerable Biblical tradition, if we have issues to resolve, let us resolve them together. Decisions that impact our state’s largest higher education institutions and their many constituents, as well as our economy and quality of life, ought to be reviewed thoughtfully and informed by input from all those with a vested interest, including alumni, citizens and lawmakers.

Just this week, the NCAA ruled that it would not allow the broadcast of high school games on school or conference television networks. Good. Let’s take that off the table and return to the conversations that are needed to ensure a strong Big 12 conference. As leading Texas universities, we have an obligation to sit down and speak openly as we strengthen the bonds that have benefited us all for so many years.

Baylor, Texas and Texas A&M have been competing against one another for more than a century, while Texas Tech has been facing these foes for more than 80 years. Quite frankly, I can’t imagine having a Baylor home football game without a Midnight Yell or the pageantry of the Fighting Texas Aggie Band marching at halftime of the game.

Any change that disrupts our current athletic affiliations will create mammoth aftershocks throughout our conference and others. I shudder to consider a future gathering of my fellow university presidents in which conversations about the disappearance of our historic rivalries lead us to consider what we were thinking back in 2011 when we let something so valuable slip away.

Fortunately, it is still 2011 now. There is no need for a rush to judgment. Cool heads can prevail when we take the time to listen to one another.