The Texas Conference: A Plan to Save College Football in Our State (2022)

With Texas and Oklahoma joining Texas A&M in the SEC, the remaining schools in the Big 12 have been left in the lurch. For fans of Baylor, TCU, and Texas Tech, this means the terrifying prospect of deciding whether loyalty to the Big 12 is the best play, or if it would be better to heed to the siren call of conference realignment and seek membership in the ACC or Pac-12.

SEC extends invitation to Oklahoma, Texas to join conference

our news story on @TheAthletic: https://t.co/anbNE7d0aI

— Sam Khan Jr. (@skhanjr) July 29, 2021

But neither is a good option for those Texas schools. Loyalty to the Big 12, with its unsteady leadership, faltering reputation, and lack of big-money member schools is not the right choice. The Big 12 is just as likely to be heading to the conference chop shop as it is to be heading into a prosperous future. But waiting for overtures from other major conferences might be just as unlikely to work out. For universities like Baylor and TCU—small, private, religious institutions that lack the athletic tradition of UT or A&M, their recent football success is unlikely to appeal to a major conference. And Texas Tech, way out in West Texas, is at risk of being grafted into a conference that operates two time zones away.

No, now is not the time for loyalty or to sit around and wait for rescue. Now is the time for Texas’s remaining college football powers to take control of their own destiny, to band together with their historic rivals in the same way Texas did with Oklahoma. Now is the time to form the Texas Conference.

The proposal for Baylor, TCU, and Tech is to create a new, Texas-only conference with all the other Division I FBS schools in the state. This would be: Baylor, TCU, Tech, SMU, Houston, Rice, UTSA, UTEP, UNT, and Texas State. Of course, many of these teams were in the old Southwest Conference together, but Rice, TCU, SMU, and Houston were left out of the initial formation of the Big 12. This could right those wrongs and add other Texas teams.

Before anything else, let’s acknowledge that there are major hurdles to overcome to accomplish this. In fact, it’s a near certainty that the Texas Conference will never come into existence. The legal battles, the lack of a national TV audience—it’s just about impossible. But it’s a fun thought exercise, and Texas and OU just proved that in college football, anything can be accomplished if enough money’s at stake.

Fans of Texas schools in the Big 12 may balk at this idea. Visions of competing against USC and Oregon in the Pac-12 or Clemson in the ACC may seem more appealing than Saturdays in El Paso or San Marcos. But there are reasons why now is the exact right time to establish the Texas Conference.

For one, the move would give Baylor, TCU, and Tech control over their own situations. Instead of being subject to the whims of larger universities or the inept Big 12 leadership, they will be in charge. In the Texas Conference, they will be what UT and Oklahoma were to the Big 12. Would you rather be the twelfth most important team in the Pac-12 or the most important team in the Texas Conference?

But won’t such a move take these teams out of the conversation for the College Football Playoff by relegating them to a non–Power Five conference? With the proposed postseason expansion that grows the playoff field from four to twelve teams, the six highest-rated conference champions will automatically make the bracket, along with six at-large selections. In this scenario, if Baylor goes undefeated with a couple solid non-conference wins, it would easily be one of the six highest-ranked conference champions. In fact, the Texas Conference could give programs like TCU and Baylor a better chance than they’ve ever had to make the playoff. And if you’re concerned about the level of competition, look at that list of teams again.

Under head coach Sonny Dykes, SMU has turned into a Dallas–Fort Worth regional recruiting powerhouse, an offensive juggernaut, and the best Mustangs team since the Pony Express. Houston has strung together a half-decade’s worth of impressive seasons and is now led by coach Dana Holgorsen, who left West Virginia for the Cougars. Barry Switzer once told me that if a team could just recruit the Houston and surrounding area’s top talents, they would be the best team in the country. This would give schools in the Texas Conference a chance to step that recruiting up even further. UTSA and UNT have been on the rise in recent years, and both are large universities in major metropolitan areas. And, sure, UTEP, Texas State, and Rice haven’t been good in a long time, but every conference needs some basement dwellers. Plus, the goal of the Texas Conference would be to raise the level of all its members.

What about money? The money is there. The branding for the Texas Conference is obvious. Think about the appeal for potential in-state corporate sponsors like H-E-B. If a business wants to be seen as being for Texans, associating with the conference that consists entirely of Texas schools is a no-brainer. It’s easy to imagine advertisers playing off the loyalty to the state (with a knowing wink toward the two universities who threw in their lots with southeastern states). Major corporations will throw huge money at UT and A&M, but there are plenty of companies that will want to play ball with the smaller conference. The state of Texas is synonymous with football. Now imagine being the only major college football conference made up of only Texas teams. The potential is astounding.

Athletes also stand to benefit from the NCAA’s new rules regarding name, image, and likeness (NIL), which allow players to be paid by sponsors. Imagine a three-star wide-receiver recruit from Houston with offers from UT, A&M, and UH. At the SEC behemoths, this player would compete for playing time against four- and five-star receivers throughout his college career. He might earn playing time by the time his senior year rolls around, and by then he might get some sponsorship money. But what if, instead, he played for his hometown Cougars, became an immediate star, and began appearing in commercials for Houston-based companies like those owned by the chairman of the UH board of regents, billionaire Tilman Fertitta. Imagine if this wideout led Houston to the Texas Conference title and the College Football Playoff. What company in Texas wouldn’t want to pay him over the Longhorns’ fourth- or fifth-string receiver?

Finally, the Texas Conference would deliver significant cost savings for non-revenue sports. If realignment meant TCU wound up back in the Mountain West Conference, the Horned Frogs baseball and soccer teams would have to travel as far as Wyoming, Utah, California, Colorado, and New Mexico for games. This would take not only a financial toll on the university, but also a physical and mental toll on the athletes. Cutting travel distances by keeping the competition within Texas would allow these schools to save money—money they’ll need for all the legal battles that are sure to erupt over the creation of the Texas Conference.

It will be complicated. It will be costly. And it will drive college football fans from all 49 other states insane with jealousy. But hey, isn’t that the most Texan thing we could do?

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