SMU in the Big 12?

President Turner and SMU's AD say the Mustangs are interested in joining the Big 12 Athletic Conference.


By  Bill Nichols
Staff Writer

The Big 12's announcement that it is exploring expansion candidates has sparked a flurry of activity from colleges and media outlets nationwide.

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As the list of candidates grows, one big-market program with numerous ties to the league has been largely overlooked.

But SMU officials are determined to change that. Athletic director Rick Hart and school President R. Gerald Turner have made presentations to the Big 12, stating SMU's case as a potential member.

"President Turner and I have communicated to the Big 12 our interest in pursuing membership along with the reasons why we would be an excellent long-term partner," Hart said by phone on Thursday. "We feel that we belong and have assets that no one else can offer."

The Big 12 is exploring the addition of either two or four members to its current 10-school roster.

SMU is one of at least seven programs to have publicly expressed interest. Five of those programs, including SMU, hail from the American Athletic Conference. The other American candidates are Houston, Memphis, Cincinnati and UCF.

Hart and Turner have provided materials they hope will sway Big 12 officials.

Among the assets that can bolster SMU's résumé are its location, academics, history and athletic facility investments.

We believe that we're a good fit," Hart said. "It seems natural. We have competed at that level before and done very well. We're on a level playing field with those institutions.

"We're in the middle of the footprint of the conference, which is anchored in the state of Texas. I understand it can be argued whether we bring, quote/unquote, the Dallas market, but what we do is solidify the Dallas market."

Although Hart stressed that SMU is happy in the American, Big 12 membership would provide dramatic improvements, particularly in revenue and program recognition.

Because of its Southwest Conference heritage (1918-1996), SMU has ties to current Big 12 members Baylor, Texas, TCU and Texas Tech.

Location is probably the strongest card in SMU's hand. The Dallas-Fort Worth TV market is the largest market in the Big 12. D-FW ranks fifth nationally among television markets and ranks fifth in media markets, according to the News Generation.

Dallas airports offer direct flights to nine of the 10 Big 12 markets. This is important to conference athletic directors trying to balance budgets and reduce time demands on athletes (thus, providing more study time, better grades and graduation rates).

SMU's academic ranking (No. 61 nationally) would rank No. 2 among current Big 12 schools, behind only Texas.

"I hope this process will strongly consider the student-athlete's well-being for all institutions," Hart said. "The last round of expansion, one of the things it could have done better was with geographical perspective as well as the student-athlete's well-being. We have the opportunity to do that here."

Among programs not in the "power five," SMU has the second largest athletic budget, according to Equity in Athletics Data Analysis.

SMU's rich sports history includes eight team national championships, more than 100 individual NCAA crowns and 156 conference titles, most of which were won in the Southwest Conference

And in looking to the future, SMU has invested almost $200 million in athletics facilities since 2000.

The basketball program, transformed over the last four years by Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, has garnered national attention with three consecutive 25-win seasons and one of the best facilities. Moody Coliseum has been mostly sold out since reopening in 2012. Brown recently resigned amid a contract dispute and was replaced by associate head coach Tim Jankovich, who arrived with Brown.

Football attendance remains the toughest obstacle, despite four straight bowl appearances during the June Jones era.

But football is trending upward, particularly in terms of recruiting, marketing and social media, since Chad Morris took over as coach before the 2015 season.

Morris, highly coveted as Clemson's offensive coordinator, turned other head coaching offers down before arriving on the Hilltop. His determination to upgrade the program has energized alums, fans and the student body.

"We understand that there are flaws in our résumé just as there are flaws in everyone's résumé," Hart said. " But one of the things that they [Big 12 officials] said was they were looking for a partner that could grow in the league and reach its potential. That speaks to a long-term partnership and that's where we feel we could address some of the perceived flaws or weaknesses that we might have now."