Abbott Will Take Blame for Frantic Rush
to Seal SEC Deal Before Dems Come Back
July 23, 2021
Governor Greg Abbott has been keeping Texans in the dark for six months on a clandestine scheme by small group of University of Texas officials and boosters to abandon the Big 12 for the SEC in a package deal with the Oklahoma Sooners.
The ringleaders behind the proposed realignment at UT have been negotiating with the Southeastern Conference since early this year. But forces behind the switch have escalated their timetable dramatically - with plans to formalize the exodus from the Big 12 next week before Texas lawmakers have an opportunity to intervene with more than 50 House Democrats preventing a quorum with a boycott in special session on a GOP voting bill.
Former state Senate Republican Kevin Eltife has been spearheading the secret dealing with the SEC in his role as the University of Texas System board of regents chairman who was Abbott's choice for the post. Several major Republican donors with close ties to UT have been aware and supportive if not directly involved in the SEC courtship.
Abbott's blessings would have been imperative for such a move from the outset as a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin where he's appointed the entire system board in the past seven years as the state's chief executive.
But the House Democrats' extended absence at a special session this month has given the forces behind the conference relocation an opportunity to try to rush the deal to fruition so state lawmakers from other Texas schools won't try to get in the way with committee hearings or the filing of bills designed for blocking the move or buying time to fight it.
The state's flagship university plans to submit a letter to the Big 12 next week as notice of its intent to cancel television rights that are currently set to expire in 2025. OU presumably will do the same while going off the script conceived in Austin.
The Texas Republican governor's fingerprints haven't appeared on the secret conference realignment dealings up to now. Abbott could deny any ties to the realignment or knowledge of the bargaining that had been kept under wraps - amazingly given the magnitude - until the Houston Chronicle broke the story on Wednesday.
But the sneaking of UT into the SEC behind the backs of Texans has the potential to become a significant problem for Abbott in a re-election bid in 2022 as a surefire way to alienate constituents who are loyal to other Big 12 schools like Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU.
More importantily from a political perspective, the defection of UT to the SEC could cost Abbott substantial support among Texas A&M University loyalists who outnumber Texas fans dramatically and have more influence at the polls as a group than fans from all of the state's other colleges combined.
The Aggies apparently believed when they switched from the Big 12 to the SEC in 2011 that they would have the right to veto the admission of any other Texas schools into the conference.
The Republicans who've engineered the bolt to the SEC appear to think that the opportunity for a boost in TV revenues and other benefits will be worth the non-monetary losses that will come when UT swaps the crown in the Big 12 for the right to be just another team like the Aggies in a stronger football conference that Alabama has dominated.
UT already has the most lucrative athletic department in the country despite a decade of mediocrity on the gridiron in a Big 12 where Oklahoma has been the only perennial power with Baylor University as a stronger team than the Longhorns.
But UT could be killing the joy of college sports for countless supporters of Texas universities that could be relegated to mid-majors status with the Big 12 losing its two most prestigious football powers. The disastrous political ramifications appears to be enormous as a result.
more to come ...