Shopping for a new athletic conference? Make sure the political alignment matches up with the school alignment.
With talk that the PAC 10 and the Southeast Conference might like to add some Texas schools now in the Big 12 to their lineups, it's time to see how that might go over in the halls of government, since the schools involved are either state institutions or at least have affiliations in high places.
The last time collegiate sports in Texas went all batty about conferences — the changes that moved four teams from the old Southwest Conference to what is now the Big 12 — the politicking was fierce. The politicos in power at the time all had their say. Gov. Ann Richards was from Baylor. Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock went to Texas Tech and then on to Baylor Law. House Speaker Pete Laney was a Tech grad, as was House Appropriations Chairman Rob Junell (who also carries a masters degree from the University of Arkansas). Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Montford represented Lubbock (Tech) and went to the University of Texas. There were more hookups, but you get the idea. Guess what? The conference that came to Texas shopping for two state institutions — UT and Texas A&M — ended up with four, including Tech and Baylor.
Now the shopping is on again. What it'll amount to, only your Palm Reader knows, but look at the lineup of key committee chairs for the various schools and conferences:
Gov. Rick Perry: Texas A&M; Big 12
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst: University of Arizona; Pac 10
House Speaker Joe Straus: Vanderbilt; SEC
Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden: U.S. Naval Academy, Texas A&M; Patriot League/Big 12
House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts: SMU; Conference USA
Senate State Affairs Chairman Robert Duncan: Texas Tech; Big 12
House State Affairs Chairman Burt Solomons: Texas Tech, SMU, University of Tulsa; Big 12/Conference USA/Conference USA
Senate Higher Education Chairman Judith Zaffirini: UT; Big 12
House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch: Oklahoma Christian, Georgetown, SMU; Sooner Athletic Conference/Big East/Conference USA
How does that add up? Work it the way it worked last time, with a mix of school loyalties (there, but not so strong), the ability of state institutions to raise money from games and such (you're getting warmer), and the avoidance of pain for elected officials (if you think political people can be hostile, go read the comments on the average sports site). The best bet on stuff like this is that nothing will happen. Next best bet? Going into a tight budget, lawmakers will be looking for money. And distractions. Sports are distractions.