Lawmaker Backlash on Big 12 Ditching
May Be Futile with Fix In on Defections

Capitol Inside
July 23, 2021

Forty state lawmakers rallied on Friday in a desperate quest to save the Big 12 Conference with a bill that would require the Legislature's approval before the University of Texas could cap off six months of secret dealings with a sudden departure to the SEC.

The move could be doomed to fail - however - amid the appearance that the fix is already in and too late to try to stop without a quorum in the Texas House as a consequence of a walkout by Democrats on a controversial voting bill.

State Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock and State Senator Brian Birdwell of Granbury are seeking to put the brakes nonetheless on UT's defection to the SEC with the University of Oklahoma with legislation they filed today for consideration in special session this summer.

The House Higher Education Committee is diving into the conference realignment fray with plans to grill UT officials at a hearing early next week on the Burrows proposal in House Bill 298. But the House won't have the authority to act unless 50 Democrats agreed to release their hold on the GOP election bill by returning to Austin to give the chamber a quorum they've been blocking for almost two weeks while holding out in Washington D.C. as overnight celebrities in an escalating war on voting rights.

Burrows, one of the state's most powerful lawmakers as the House Calenders Committee chairman, enlisted 34 Republican colleagues as joint authors on House Bill 298 with GOP State Reps. Greg Bonnen of Friendswood, Charlie Geren of Fort Worth and Jeff Leach of Allen at the forefront of the effort in the lower chamber.

Republican State Senators Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham and Charles Perry of Lubbock signed on the Birdwell measure in Senate Bill 76 that also features Democratic State Senator Beverly Powell of Burleson as the only supporting sponsor from the minority party.

A significant number of the lawmakers who've signed on to the Burrows and Birdwell bills have ties to Texas schools that could be left out in the cold like Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor if the Big 12 fails to survive an simultaneous exodus of its two most prestigious schools.

Kolkhorst played on the golf team at TCU, which has Geren and his family as longtime advocates. Geren and Powell represent parts of Tarrant County where the Horned Frogs could find themselves without a home in a major conference after being exiled to the mid-major level in the aftermath of the Southwest Conference breakup in the mid-1990s after UT and Texas A&M left to join the conference that would become the Big 12.

The House sponsors list includes some of GOP Speaker Dade Phelan's top allies such a Burrows and Bonnen, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Bonnen attended Texas A&M. Leach is a former Baylor student body president. Phelan, a first-term speaker from Beaumont, is a UT graudate.

More than a dozen Republicans who are co-sponsors on House Bill 298 are Texas A&M University alumni including several who represent parts of the Waco and Lubbock areas that would take hits to local economies if Bayor and Texas Tech were stranded on the outside in the most dramatic realignment episode yet on the college football landscape.

Some of the state's highest-ranking leaders in Austin forced UT and A&M to include Texas Tech and Baylor in the package shift to the Big 12. Texas legislators responded in similar fashion when they learned about overtures that UT and OU were entertaining from the PAC-12 - filing bills and holding hearings in moves that were designed more for buying time actually blocking the move. UT eventually called off plans for a move to the west - and the Aggies exit opened up a spot that TCU had earned with a nationally ranked football program for several years.

UT would be leaving the sports programs at fellow Texas schools behind to fend for themselves with hope for an invitation from one of the new mid-major conferences that the SEC will be creating with the bid to build itself into the singular superpower conference

Texas A&M University will find the move offensive from a more personal perspective after shifting from the Big 12 to the SEC in 2011 amid perpetual perceptions on UT having unfair advantages and a larger share of the pie than it deserved. But the Aggies thought they would have veto power over the possible admission of another Texas school into the SEC. Texas A&M could be the only solid vote of opposition whenever the SEC schools vote on whether to expand with the former Big 12 powers in the fold.

Texas A&M stands to lose a recruiting advantage that it's experienced as a member of a league that's been regarded as the best for college football - thanks mostly to the Alabama Crimson Tide. The odds for success at Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Florida and all of the other current SEC schools would take a hit in that respect with UT and OU in their ranks.

The University of Texas would expect to boost recruiting at the expense of the Aggies and the other teams that Alabama defeats most every year as the indisputable king of the SEC. New UT head football coach Steve Sarkisian served as Nick Saban's offensive coordinator for two years at Alabama - the lone SEC member that might have the singular power to pave the way for the admission of new power teams that will drive up the asking price on television revenues and other benefits of membership.

more to come ...







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