SMU seeks Big 12 membership

Growing number of local and state officials speak out for SMU becoming part of Big 12.

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By Dallas Morning News Editorial

It's no surprise that demand for an expansion berth in the Big 12 Conference has two dozen or more universities queuing up with last-lifeboat urgency. A chance to join a "power-five" conference, with all the cache and revenue that go with it, is increasingly rare.

So if the Big 12 wants to add two or even four schools, why not Southern Methodist University?

If you've examined the lists of top contenders — Brigham Young, Houston, Cincinnati, Memphis, Connecticut and Central Florida, among others — you may have wondered what happened to Dallas' university.

Since the Southwest Conference dissolved in 1996, SMU has found homes in three minor conferences, most recently the American Athletic. Many of its SWC rivals combined with the former Big Eight to create the Big 12 and, in a bit of irony, put its headquarters just outside Dallas in Irving.

Big 12 championship games and tournaments have filled AT&T Stadium and the American Airlines Center. The region is laced with enthusiastic fan and alumni bases from Texas, Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas and former Big 12 member Texas A&M.

In fact, that's one of the arguments used against SMU, that the Big 12 owns much of its turf already. Yet that's also a potential weakness in Houston's bid, and that didn't stop Texas' governor and lieutenant governor and University of Texas president from publicly backing the Cougars.

What SMU offers the Big 12 is a stronger case to consolidate a top-five U.S. media market around one power-five conference. That unified presence would only increase penetration and market share in a market that truly matters.

And no offense to Cincinnati, Memphis, Orlando or Provo, Utah, but there's no fair way to compare them to Dallas.

A Big 12 checklist also would include athletic competitiveness and academic standards, including research. To the latter point, SMU's U.S. News & World Report ranking would be second in the conference to UT; SMU's average entrance test scores for first-year students would rank first.

Still, football is king, and there's no denying that SMU has ground to make up. After four consecutive bowl teams, the bottom fell out the past two seasons. The needle is pointing up with a well-regarded coach in Chad Morris and two solid recruiting classes behind him.

Another benefit of being Dallas' university is the support of 50,000 alumni, many of whom help form our civic and community leadership. And with that comes the financial backing that provided $120 million in facility upgrades, with a new $150 million master plan in the works.

One centerpiece of the current effort is a new indoor performance center, an outdoor natural-grass football practice field and new soccer stadium.

"I would say that we are looking for members that will grow over time as we grow, that will bring stability to the conference and that have a high top end," Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.

All things considered, that sounds precisely like Dallas' university, SMU.

In the words of SMU Athletic Director Rick Hart

"Whether it's the Big 12 or the American Athletic Conference, or another conference down the road, you have to invest constantly at the highest level possible. That's the path to national recognition and championships.

"It never ends. If you want to be a part of that nationally relevant group, you can't wait for it to happen. This is what it takes, and the process is constant."

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