Eric Johnson: We should all be pulling for SMU

State Representative Eric Johnson writes about why the community should be behind SMU being invited to join the Big 12 Athletic Conference.

As a life-long college football aficionado, I understand the economic impact that college sports can have on a local economy. That is why I think the entire Dallas community — whether SMU fan or not, whether sports fan or not — should support SMU’s efforts to join the Big 12 Conference. It would lead to an immediate economic benefit for Dallas that would include creation of much-needed jobs. The fact that we would get this economic shot in the arm without spending a dime of public money would be the best part of the deal.

 We have had plenty of debates about the use of public money to promote sports in Dallas. While there are passionate people on both sides, I suspect the vast majority of us who care wish the Dallas Cowboys  played in Dallas and not Arlington . As the state representative for the South Dallas/Fair Park area, I can tell you that we certainly could have used the economic development and jobs. Dallas should not allow another job-creating engine to slip through its fingers, especially one that is not going to cost taxpayers anything.

  The Red River Rivalry, played annually between the Universities of Texas and Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl in Fair Park, is an excellent example of what college sports can do for our local economy. Adding another college game to the Cotton Bowl’s fall schedule, such as a Labor Day weekend game between SMU and one of its traditional rivals, say Texas Tech or Baylor, would do well from both an economic and football standpoint.

Those of us who are college football fans have even more reasons to support SMU’s effort. College football is my favorite sport, and I consider myself a student of the game and its history. SMU has a football pedigree that many young people are unaware of but that folks my age and older know well.

 SMU belongs in a major conference, competing with the big boys of Division I football, despite its recent history of underperformance. Under coach June Jones, SMU looks as if it will be competitive on the field sooner rather than later, which would eliminate even that argument against its admission to the Big 12. The idea of SMU playing a major opponent in Dallas every other week would be a dream come true for all fans in Dallas, regardless of their alma mater.

  We should also face facts: The Big 12 is in trouble. One can easily envision a Division I landscape made up of a handful of regional “super conferences.” Texas A&M just sent the Big 12 a “Dear John” letter. UT, OU and Oklahoma State would, in the event of a Big 12 implosion, likely land wherever they chose. Missouri and Kansas both probably have future homes in an expanded Big 10.

  The schools most at risk of being left out? Iowa State, Kansas State , Baylor and Texas Tech — a very bad outcome for those interested in protecting Texas’ proud football tradition and its storied rivalries. The Big 12 must get out of its defensive posture of simply holding onto current members and actively court schools to raise its membership to 14 or even 16. SMU, which would be the only Big 12 school in Dallas, should certainly be one of the expansion targets. So should Arkansas, which has never really integrated into the SEC ; TCU, which is a much better fit for the Big 12 than the Big East; and any number of other targets, such as Notre Dame and BYU.

I serve on the Committee on Higher Education in the Texas House, and while we certainly have more important issues to address, I recognize that the time for SMU and Dallas to act is now. I hope that the community rallies around this idea and that momentum leads to a renewed partnership between SMU and the city that surrounds it.

Sports fans, civic and business leaders, and all those who want to see a stronger, more diverse Dallas economy, please join me in supporting SMU and helping bring the Big 12 to Big D.

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