The case to expand the Big 12 Conference by adding Rice University and Texas-El Paso (UTEP)


I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!

Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley, Saturday Night Live (1995)

This proposal has made the case that the Big 12 should expand by two schools vertically to ensure its stability, in order to strengthen the unity of the Big 12 Conference and to position itself for future expansion should it become desirable or necessary. In addition, when the “usual suspects” of potential expansion candidates are viewed against what the Big 12 actually needs, assuming Notre Dame is not available, the two best choices to strengthen and unite the Big 12 Conference from within are Rice University and UTEP.

However, whether this should happen is not the same as whether it will happen, and particularly in the case of UTEP, there exists an important impediment that may best be described as psychological – UTEP’s own inferiority complex. That such an inferiority complex exists is understandable. A century ago, the State of Texas was large, rural, and poor and it made sense to devote most of its limited resources to the state’s flagship university (UT– Austin) and land-grant university (Texas A&M). However, Texas has changed in the past fifty years, but the re-allocation of resources to other public universities was slow to change – too slow – with the new demographics and wealth of the state. The result is that while California has seven “top 50″ public research universities, Texas still has only two – UT-Austin and Texas A&M.

Thus, for most of the past century UTEP has viewed itself as a “second class” university when compared to UT-Austin, Texas A&M, or even Texas Tech. This needs to change, not just because it is incorrect, but because it is contrary to good public policy for the citizens of Texas. Some may ask what all this has to do with Big 12 Conference expansion – but the issues are inextricably connected. In our society, a university’s athletic program serves as a window to the university, and who we choose to play with – in the sandbox or on the gridiron – sends powerful messages about how others view us and how we view ourselves. Moreover, in pure economic terms it’s an enormous financial windfall for the schools that get “picked” – new media revenues alone will exceed $20 million every year, and the total economic impact to El Paso (UTEP) and Houston (Rice) would likely exceed $750 million a year. If the Texas schools have the power within the Big 12 to affect the choice of who is admitted – and they do – does it really make sense to send such an economic windfall to schools in Utah, Colorado, or Kentucky rather than more deserving schools in Texas that also need it?

It does not. It makes no sense. This does not mean that Rice and UTEP should be admitted to the Big 12 Conference for these reasons alone – but that is precisely the point of this proposal. They should be admitted to the Big 12 on their merits. If Notre Dame is not interested, which will almost certainly be the case, then Rice and UTEP are the two best candidates for potential Big 12 expansion – based on their merits. That’s why the existing Texas member schools in the Big 12 should support admitting Rice University and UTEP into the Big 12 Conference. It’s in the best interest of the Big 12 Conference. By happy circumstance, it’s also in the best interest of the citizens of the State of Texas.

The End.

Now stepping off the soapbox.



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