SMU has a strong case for a major college athletic conference
Dallas is a city full of sports fans who can boost any roster of teams.
The Dallas Morning News op-ed
By Eric Johnson
1:30 AM on Jul 15, 2022
After recent moves have again dramatically shifted the college football landscape, I have a message for any major conference looking for a world-class institution and a major media market: It’s time to Pony Up.
Southern Methodist University is primed to ascend to a major athletics conference. Few viable and available university athletics programs have the rare combination that SMU offers: a rich history, a recent winning track record and a bright future. Winners of eight team national championships and home to over 100 individual national champions, SMU has advanced all 17 sports to the postseason and has won conference titles across 14 of those sports over the past 13 years. SMU football has won 25 games over the past three seasons — the most among NCAA Division I Texas teams — and has been ranked in each of those campaigns, something very few schools can match.
As the mayor of Dallas, I’m a huge SMU supporter. Part of the campus is in the city of Dallas. Most SMU students choose to call our city home, and many alumni build lives in our city long after they leave the Hilltop in University Park. SMU also proudly wears the name of our city on its uniform, helping draw well-deserved national attention to Dallas. And we have been proud to partner with the university on numerous community initiatives.
Now, here’s why all that should matter to a major conference: Dallas is the place to be right now. This is a growing, dynamic and thriving city — the ninth-largest in the nation and the engine of the fastest-growing and fourth-largest metropolitan area in the United States. Dallas is also the most football-crazed market in the country, and it’s a city full of college football fans, many of whom grew up here watching the “Pony Express” during the early 1980s.
Having these passionate fans’ eyes on their league’s product — coupled with home games played in the nationally friendly Central time zone — would be a boost for any conference. And with two major airports with direct flights to locations throughout the nation — all less than 3 1/2 hours long — as well as some of the nation’s finest restaurants and amazing entertainment options, Dallas is an easy and enjoyable place for football fans to visit.
And we are teeming with talent. For example, football coaches and administrators should know that Texas produces more blue-chip recruits than some conferences’ entire footprint.
Notably, SMU athletics isn’t resting on its laurels. The university has been heavily investing in its programs’ future. In January, the school announced plans for a $100 million end zone complex at 32,000-seat Gerald J. Ford Stadium. The complex will be another boost to the already strong recruiting efforts and performance on the field, and it will provide fans and guests with unique, premium experiences on gameday and beyond. The end-zone complex represents a milestone for SMU athletics — the crowning piece of the recent quarter-billion-dollar investment in developing and enhancing championship-caliber athletic facilities across campus.
But make no mistake: SMU has the academic chops and high standards that would make any conference proud. A comprehensive research university on track for Tier One status in the near future, SMU is a dynamic cultural institution, producing leaders who are changing the world. It’s already one of the top 70 best universities in the country, according to the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best National Universities” rankings. Now, SMU is in the midst of a $1.5 billion fundraising campaign, coming on the heels of the previous campaign that smashed its $1 billion goal ahead of schedule. I also greatly appreciate that SMU also continues to push forward on its commitment to making education more accessible to all students; one-third of the students in this year’s freshman class are students of color, a new record for the private institution.
I’m proud of the partnership between SMU and the city of Dallas. It’s a joy to see the players wearing the “Dallas” script across their chests on a football Saturday, and proudly donning the “Triple D” Mustang logo on their helmets — a combination of our city’s logo and the running Mustang. SMU energizes and enriches our city. It will do the same for a major conference.
Eric Johnson, the 60th mayor of Dallas, was elected in June 2019. He previously served as a member of the Texas House, where he represented Dallas from April 2010 to June 2019.