By Marquis Cooley | Sports Editor
On July 21, Houston Chronicle staff writer Brent Zwerneman turned the college football world upside down when he reported that both the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas were looking to leave the Big 12 to join the Southeastern Conference just a week after Big 12 Media Days where Bob Bowlsby, Big 12 commissioner, was preaching unity within the conference.
Following the formal request by the UT and the OU to join the SEC on July 27, in a cease-and-desist letter, Bowlsby accused ESPN of trying to harm the Big 12 for its own financial benefit.
“It has come to my direct attention that ESPN, the current business partner of the Big 12 conference, has taken certain actions that are intended to not only harm the Big 12 Conference but to result in financial benefits for ESPN,” Bowlsby said in his letter. “Setting aside ESPN’s potential involvement in the recent announcement by the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma that they intend to leave the Big 12 Conference in 2025, I am aware that ESPN has also been actively engaged in discussions with at least one other conference regarding that conference inducing additional members of the Big 12 Conference to leave the Big 12 Conference.”
ESPN denied the accusations, stating that the claims were “entirely without merit.”
Bowlsby and representatives from TCU, Texas Tech, Baylor and UT then met with the Texas Senate for a hearing on August 2 in Austin. Mack Rhoades, Baylor vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics, voiced his opinions on the actions of UT and went viral for his comments.
“Many of my colleagues around the country believe that the University of Texas created this situation because they think so highly of themselves,” Rhoades said. “My humble opinion: I completely disagree. I think it’s because they felt too little of themselves.”
Some Baylor students question the move as well, such as Houston senior Marcus Jimenez.
“I don’t know why Texas wants to leave the Big 12,” Jimenez said. “I don’t think they’re a top three school in the Big 12, so why would they want to go to the SEC and lose?”
However, the main reason for the hearing was to highlight the economic importance of the other Texas schools remaining in a Power 5 conference. While UT may make millions more by being part of the SEC, if Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech were to lose their Power 5 status, it’s estimated that the state of Texas would lose over $500 million in revenue, which Baylor President Linda Livingstone highlighted in her testimony.
If Baylor and other Big 12 schools were to have to join another conference or lose their Power 5 status it could harm them in more ways than just financial aspects; it could also hurt in areas like recruiting. However, track and field head coach Michael Ford believes Baylor’s uniqueness could overcome the potential recruiting problem.
“Baylor is such a unique place to be with the Christian atmosphere, the small school size,” Ford said. “So I think any conference that we possibly could go to or stay in the Big 12, I don’t think it’s going to make a big adjustment on our recruiting aspect of it.”
While Baylor coaches are prepared to face any possible conference realignment consequences, Bowlsby is still trying to keep the Big 12 alive, even meeting with the Pac-12 commissioner. But a possible scheduling alliance between the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC is leaving the Big 12 without many options to secure its future.
While there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding whether or not the Big 12 will remain, Livingstone has stated in her Presidential Perspective that they will continue to try and do what is best for Baylor in the end.
“We, along with the Board of Regents, members of the Baylor delegation in the Texas Legislature and other Baylor leaders, are actively engaged in conversations with our Big 12 colleagues and others to ensure our university is in the strongest position possible now and into the future,” President Livingstone said. “In the midst of what promises to be a lot of angst and speculation, we will continue to focus on what we can control and support our student-athletes and staff. And, as the landscape of college athletics continues to change, we maintain an unshakable belief in the strength and resiliency of Baylor and the Baylor brand.”