A former Texas governor urged the presidential candidate currently holding that position to take steps to avoid a “permanent mistake” by idly watching Texas A&M leave the Big 12 to join the Southeastern Conference.
Mark White, a Baylor graduate who served as Texas’ governor from 1983-87, said today that current Gov. Rick Perry, an A&M graduate, should join legislators in “cool reflection” _ and consider funding cutbacks _ aimed at keeping the Aggies in the Big 12 rather than exploring an expansion opportunity with the SEC.
“What I would urge the governor to do is ask A&M to sit down with their counterparts in Texas and work out their differences,” White said in response to Monday’s action by A&M regents to allow the school president to negotiate in regard to conference realignment just 14 months after the school broke off talks with the SEC to remain in the Big 12. “They don’t have to act childlike and run off somewhere … A&M has a responsibility to taxpayers in this state. If you can show me where the state of Texas wins on this deal, I’d like to see it. I thought we’d put this to bed for 10 or 15 years (last summer).”
Hardly. The concept of conference realignment is alive and well to the point that Big 12 officials are bracing for A&M’s potential departure and wondering what they can do to stop it.
In an exclusive interview with the Star-Telegram, White challenged Perry, along with members of Texas’ House Higher Education Committee that controls funding for Texas’ public colleges, to take a hard look at evidence regarding whether Texas taxpayers would be better-served with A&M as the state’s lone team in the SEC.
He cited a study by The Perryman Group suggesting a Texas A&M departure from the Big 12, with no replacement team, would create a loss of 3,050 jobs and $217.2 million in output (gross product) annually in Texas. Ray Perryman, president and CEO of the group, is a Baylor graduate.
A&M spokesman Jason Cook said school officials “are looking into the validity of the claims made in the report.” Some industry analysts have discounted the validity and thoroughness of the survey.
White called A&M’s potential move to the SEC “a permanent mistake made that would extend for generations.” Asked about his thoughts being tempered by his Baylor loyalties, White said: “That’s certainly true. But I wouldn’t feel so strongly if I hadn’t been paying taxes to fund A&M.”
White disputed the claims of A&M president R. Bowen Loftin, who said Monday that the Aggies “don’t see the downside” of a Big 12 departure because “a lot of schools … would like to be in the Big 12 and add value to it.” Likely replacement candidates if A&M leaves the Big 12 include Brigham Young, Houston, Air Force and TCU.
“A&M says this won’t hurt people in Texas. I have evidence that it does,” White said, citing the Perryman study as well as the fact that nine of the Aggies’ 12 football games this season will be played in the state of Texas _ a figure destined to diminish with a move to the SEC, impacting hotel and restaurant business in the Lone Star State. “If they leave, what happens next? It’s predicatable that it’s not going to be good for Texas and it’s marginal that it will be better for A&M.”
White also downplayed the significance of A&M’s concerns about the impending launch of the Longhorn Network, which will pay Texas an extra $15 million per year _ for the next 20 years _ in addition to conference-wide revenues. White said the Aggies do not lack for money or fan interest and should do likewise.
“Why doesn’t A&M get themselves a channel? Texas is getting paid for that. So what?,” White said. “What difference does it matter how much ice cream the other guy has if I’ve already got all I can eat? The best revenge is victory … The way to handle that is to go and beat the hell out of the University of Texas.”
_ Jimmy Burch