Don’t look for the Legislature to get in the middle of Texas A&M University’s split from the Big 12 Conference.
Twice in the last 14 months, House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, has called a hearing about universities leaving the Big 12 Conference — and twice he had to cancel it because the timing was off. In the meantime, the conservative blogosphere let him have it.
The most recent hearing was set for mid-August. Before it was canceled because the Southeastern Conference declined to offer A&M an invitation (for the time being), Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of the conservative fiscal watchdog group Empower Texans, called it "hypocrisy." This was in part because of Branch's hands-off approach to the creation of the Longhorn Network, which reportedly played no small role in inspiring A&M's wandering eye.
"Rather than meddling in football schedules, Texas legislators should use their time to move the ball forward on substantive policy reforms that will improve affordability and accessibility in our public colleges and universities," Sullivan wrote at the time. It might have nothing to do with it, but it's worth noting that Sullivan is an Aggie.
Now that A&M has actually officially announced its desire to leave the Big 12, Branch appears less eager to meet. During a higher education hearing on separate matters this week, Branch said he hoped there would be time — it is likely to be a drawn-out process — for questions to be asked and answered in the public arena "and there won't be a need for any hearings."
Branch’s higher education counterpart in the Senate, Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has expressed similar views on the need, or lack thereof, for a hearing. She's a Longhorn, by the way.
“It is not this chairman's intent to meddle in those types of decisions," Branch said. However, he noted, in previous instances, that when impending actions caught them off guard and there was "concern that there could be harm done to a conference that would ultimately cause damage to major public institutions of this state," lawmakers needed to have their questions answered.
Of the Big 12, he said, "We have gained a sense that the current conference our other institutions are in — namely University of Texas, Texas Tech University and Baylor University — that conference, at least at the present, seems to be solid."
The Big 12 is looking to expand its footprint and, and Houston Democratic Rep. Garnet Coleman has been outspoken about which institution he’d like to see join up. “As I have made clear before, no other school makes as much sense for the Big 12 as does the University of Houston,” he said in a statement. Look for him to continue making that clear as this saga drags on.