Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings: SMU deserves a shot at BCS status

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings says SMU deserves a shot at BCS status.

I have a great passion for football. It has been a major part of my life: Playing in youth leagues and attending college on a football scholarship. Thousands of other North Texans also love football and cheer on teams, from our outstanding high school athletes to the Dallas Cowboys. And who can resist the excitement of the Texas-Oklahoma game during the State Fair, unmistakably the best college game year in and year out?

Our region also can be proud of its major college programs. But since the breakup of the Southwest Conference and the advent of the Bowl Championship Series in the 1990s, we as a city and region have lost an important asset: The chance to play for and win a national college football championship.

Potential realignments in the BCS now present a new opportunity for Dallas and our home team, Southern Methodist University. Texas A&M has announced that it wants to leave the Big 12 . SMU, currently a member of Conference USA, has said that it wants to participate in a conference that has automatic qualifying status.

SMU would seem to be a natural for the Big 12. The conference is home to three other Texas schools — Baylor, the University of Texas and Texas Tech — as well as Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State , Missouri and Iowa State. Another possibility for SMU is that Conference USA, along with other conferences, may be ready to join the ranks of the BCS.

Whatever road it takes to the BCS, SMU’s goal is important for Dallas and the region — even for those who don’t consider themselves football fans. Here’s why.

Our community would benefit.

We all win if SMU plays in an automatic qualifier conference against powerhouses such as the Longhorns, Red Raiders and Sooners. Alumni of these universities and students would travel to Dallas from around the country to see their women’s and men’s teams compete at SMU. They would fill up Dallas’ hotels, restaurants, museums and shopping centers. And they’d return home to tell their friends and co-workers about our city.

Thousands of these graduates who live in our community finally could cheer on their universities as their teams play close to home. SMU’s 100,000 energized alumni also would make quite an impact. More than 40,000 of them live in North Texas. And high-profile TV games in Dallas’ large market would further boost our national visibility.

A recent study at the University of Missouri found that athletic events there have an impact of about $118 million on the community each year. Dallas could put such resources to good use.

The BCS, and especially the Big 12 Conference, has strong ties to North Texas.

The Big 12 headquarters are in Las Colinas. The conference represents thousands of jobs and at least $1 billion in economic value to Texas. The conference also represents our region’s strong athletic identity and great rivalries that have been built, dating back to the Southwest Conference.

A strong Big 12 is beneficial to us all; we do not want it to splinter. Expanding the conference to include SMU would be one way to stabilize the BCS and continue a rich tradition.

SMU is ready to compete.

SMU has made a strong case that it’s ready for the BCS. Off the field, the university’s academic profile is on the rise. On the field, the Mustangs won the 2009 Hawaii Bowl and their conference division last season under Coach June Jones. They also played in the 2010 Armed Forces Bowl to thousands of visitors in SMU’s Ford Stadium, and the university plans to expand its stadium to make room for its growing fan base. BCS membership also gives visibility and opportunities not just for football, but for all women’s and men’s sports at SMU.

We must build a movement for SMU: Sports talk show hosts and columnists must advocate for it; legislators need to speak up; and business executives should rally and invest behind this idea. For people like me who love football, this is a no-brainer. For others, the idea that we will become a smarter, richer and more fun city should be your motivation.

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