Back to Bullock and the Big 12
That’s been happening in the Big 12 athletic conference over the past few weeks. It involves players, fans, coaches, business managers, university officials, businesses – and, of course, politicians.
For a time, sportswriters predicted the University of Texas at Austin would follow the University of Colorado and leave the Big 12 to join the far-flung PAC 10 conference. Texas Tech and Texas A&M were considering the same move.
Or, UT might follow the University of Nebraska to the Big 10 conference.
So state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, chair of the House Committee on Higher Education, set meeting for Wednesday, June 16, “to discuss matters pertaining to higher education, including collegiate athletics. Invited testimony only.”
The stage was set for some grilling – and we’re not talking steaks. Branch invited the head folks at UT, A&M, Tech, and several other Texas schools in and out of the Big 12, plus officials from the various conferences.
But two days before the meeting, UT Austin President Bill Powers announced UT would stay with the Big 12. Tech and A&M and the other remaining Big 12 schools followed suit.
Branch cancelled the meeting, drawing praise from Powers.
Powers later told the Austin American-Statesman that UT wouldn’t have considered joining the Big 10 unless the conference also accepted Tech.
And that wasn’t likely, since the Big 10 wants all its schools to be members of the Association of American Universities, for top-tier research universities. UT is in the AAU; Tech isn’t.
“Our position was we weren’t going anywhere without Tech,” Powers told the American-Statesman. “It’s a great public university in the state of Texas. And we made it clear to Tech and anyone that called us that we were shoulder to shoulder with Tech. We did the same thing with A&M.”
So, there’ll be 10 schools in what Powers jokingly called “the conference formerly known as the Big 12.” They’ll still call it the Big 12, despite the new math.
It brought to mind how the Big 12 was formed in the 1990s – including, of course, attention from politicians.
It was a story that Jim Henderson, the longtime Dallas journalist, author, and good friend, and wrote about in a UT Press book called “Bob Bullock: God Bless Texas.”
Bullock, the cantankerous late lieutenant governor, wasn’t real keen on folks doing something other than what he wanted.
From the book:
Sometime in the 1990s, a transformation was taking place in the way college athletic programs were financed. Conferences, rather than central organizations (the NCAA, the College Football Association) began negotiating their own television contracts, leading the more powerful schools into a superconference mentality. The stronger the conference, the more lucrative the contract. After Arkansas bolted from the Southwest Conference for the Southeast, athletic directors from the Southwest Conference and the Big 8 began discussions about their own superconference. The talks centered on Texas and Texas A&M joining the Big 8, leaving TCU, Houston, Rice, Baylor, Texas Tech and SMU to fend for themselves in a much weakened Southwest Conference.
The athletic directors overlooked a few critical factors. Bob Bullock and Gov. (Ann) Richards were Baylor grads. Bullock and Sen. John Montford, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, were Texas Tech grads, as was House Speaker (Tom) Laney and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rob Junell. Stiff-arming them would not be easy.
Bullock, invigorated by the triumph and praise of the previous legislative session, summoned Bill Cunningham of UT and Herb Richardson of A&M to his office early in 1994, when the conference shuffle – converting the Big 8 to the Big 10 -- was on the verge of being a done deal. Glaring at the two men he said, “You’re taking Tech and Baylor or you’re not taking anything. I’ll cut your money off and you can join privately if you want, but you won’t get another nickel of state money.”
The university representatives apparently believed the subject was open for discussion, that they had a negotiating position. When they expressed hesitation, Bullock cut them off. “If you want to try me, go ahead,” he said.
“Governor, we understand,” Cunningham said.
At that moment, for all practical purposes, the Big 8 became the Big 12.
UT’s honchos have become accustomed to Tech’s improved record.
They still try to avoid chapping politicians – even though the percentage of money the universities get from the state has steadily declined.
Of course, they’ll make more money with their own TV network than one controlled by their conference, as it would have been in the PAC.
And Tech and Baylor are still in the same conference with UT and A&M. Bullock, who died in 1999, must be smiling.
Contact McNeely at davemcneely111@gmail. com or (512) 458-2963.