By Tyler Alley
Baylor President Ken Starr continues to declare Baylor’s commitment to the Big 12, but also expresses his desire for Texas A&M to remain in the conference.
“I am hopeful,” Starr said. “It is very important that we persuade Texas A&M to remain a member of the Big 12. Early June we thought stability had been reached.”
The stability of the Big 12 first became threatened this summer on July 20, when Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin told reporters there was “uncertainty” regarding the Aggies’ future in the Big 12.
On August 12, the Texas A&M Board of Regents announced that they would be meeting the following Monday to discuss “conference affiliation.”
Also on Aug. 12, Baylor director of athletics Ian McCaw released a statement explaining Baylor’s position.
“Baylor University is fully committed to the Big 12 conference and honored to be associated with nine other outstanding academic institutions,” McCaw said. “As we have consistently made clear in previous comments, we are especially proud of the historic rivalries we share with our fellow Texas institutions in the conference and know that these traditions are valued highly by our respective students and alumni.”
McCaw’s statement went on to express the steps Baylor and the other Big 12 schools were taking.
“At this time, we are working closely with our colleagues in the conference. We look forward to continued and open dialogue concerning ways we might work together to preserve our collective interests and ensure a bright and successful future for the Big 12.”
Before the meeting could even take place, the SEC announced its decision not to extend an invitation to Texas A&M, though it did not rule out adding them in the future, once it could secure a 14th team to join alongside the Aggies.
Starr said he sees this delay as an opportunity to reach out to Texas A&M.
“This is not a time for any sentiment other than loving care, reaching out to the Aggies,” Starr said. “We must reserve harsh feelings for game day. [Texas A&M] has been playing BU for 107 years. Why would you tear that [rivalry] asunder?”
Texas A&M has stated that even if it left the Big 12, the school would like to continue playing the University of Texas on Thanksgiving.
“You want to leave the conference but continue one specific rivalry?” Starr questioned. “Stay the course. We can work our way through these issues.”
One of the biggest issues many believe has led to Texas A&M looking to leave the Big 12 is the Longhorn Network, which was created by the University of Texas in a 20-year deal with ESPN worth $300 million.
Critics of Texas A&M have claimed the Aggies’ displeasure with the Longhorn Network is built on envy of UT.
Regardless, A&M has complained about the Longhorn Network being able to broadcast high school football games, which Starr also addressed.
“The LHN present issues that we are dealing with,” Starr said. “The NCAA has already dealt with issue of unfair high school recruiting with the LHN showing high school games. The board of directors of the Big 12 conference voted overwhelmingly to declare a moratorium of the broadcast of high school games on university network.”
Starr took the job as Baylor’s president two years ago, and both years he has dealt with Big 12 instability. Last summer, the University of Nebraska decided to leave the Big 12 in favor the of the Big 10, while the University of Colorado bolted for what was then the Pac-10. However, Starr claims both of these departures, while hurtful, were understandable.
“It’s one thing for Nebraska, who never seemed content in this conference, to leave,” Starr said. “It’s one thing for Colorado, who recruits heavily in California, to go to the Pac-12. But Texas A&M is in the heartland.”
With two years of talks foreseeing “the destruction of the Big 12,” even Starr had to admit to having a backup plan.
“Of course we have an option B, C and D,” Starr said. “The Big 12 was in worse trouble last year, and we had a contingency plan. Baylor would be popular. We got calls from the Air Force Academy and Utah saying ‘we love Baylor.’ But we love the Big 12 and our rivalries with the other Texas schools. We prize our relationships with Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, who by the way, is in the Big 12, happily.”
The University of Missouri had been named, along with Florida State and Clemson, as a possible team to pair with Texas A&M to join the SEC.
Starr also described how happy he was with the setup of the Big 12 prior to Texas A&M’s announcement.
“We had conference unity,” Starr said. “We would have a round robin. We will have all played each other in football. Other conferences, you can be in and not play [every team]. What kind of conference is that? Sounds more like a business arrangement.”
Starr went on to explain that Texas A&M, based on informal numbers, would owe about $20 million to the Big 12 if it were to leave.
Originally, Nebraska owed $19.4 million and Colorado owed between $15 million and $20 million, the schools were reported to have settled with the Big 12 for $9.25 million and $6.83 million, respectively.
Although the future of the Big 12 and its members remains unclear, Starr’s optimism is unwavering.
“I am hopeful that through a happy set of circumstances, including Baylor adding its own voice of ‘please don’t go, we want to honor you,’ we can encourage Texas A&M to stay,” Starr said.
If the Aggies were to leave, Brigham Young University and the University of Houston have both been mentioned as possible replacements for the Big 12.
Starr also wrote two guest columns regarding Big 12 instability. One article appears in the Waco Tribune-Herald , and a separate article appears in USA Today. To read the column, click here.