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Barnhouse: Big 12 expansion has become political theatre

(Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire)
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Several wanna be comedians Tweeted Thursday night that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s 75-minute acceptance speech failed to mention Big 12 expansion.

Two days after the Big 12 announced it was actively exploring adding new members, the discussion and debate over which schools will join the 10-team league has turned into a political football.

That is hardly surprising considering that the state of Texas is home to 40 percent of the Big 12’s membership (plus the conference office) and the University of Texas is considered a key influencer in a decision as crucial as expansion.

And if citizens who think this 2016 presidential election has turned into a Saturday Night Live sketch, politics in the Lone Star state trump this race for the White House like Georgia Tech 222, Cumberland 0.

From Thursday:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Twitter account:

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Twitter account:

And then there was this Tweet from University of Texas President Gregory L. Fenves:

The UT president’s Tweet received far more attention and created more of a stir than the comments from the two politicians. First, Texas athletic director Mike Perrin said six weeks ago he wasn’t a supporter of expansion. Second, giving the University of Houston a foothold and boost in the Big 12 would appear to be bad business for UT.

The Austin American-Statesman reported Thursday that “bidness” might be the reason behind the support for UH. Combine business, politics and football and you’ve got a Lone Star triple play.

Last year, UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven (he’s the former Navy admiral who oversaw the Seal Team Six raid that killed Osama Bin Laden) authorized purchase of 332 acres south of the Texas Medical Center in Houston last year. The UT System could be considering a satellite campus on the land – a development that would anger University of Houston leaders.

The Austin paper reported that UH officials would not oppose the satellite campus if UT supports it joining the Big 12.

“I have talked to boosters of the university who have floated that concept,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Democrat who lives five blocks from the University of Houston campus. “In these circumstances, people use the tools that they have, and that’s one of the tools the University of Houston has. All’s fair in love and war.

“They didn’t ask anybody before they came and did that. I’ve always said there’s a deal there. A deal could be made. It can be. This is not an impossible thing.”

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, shot down that theory and said the land purchase and Houston’s Big 12 bid are separate issues. Through a spokesman, McRaven denied there was a connection.

Even if UT supports UH, the Big 12 vote on expansion candidates requires a super majority of eight schools. And if there’s a whiff of back-room political deal making, there’s an excellent chance Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU would vote “no.”

If you think it’s silly – and if you don’t, you should – that politicians are involved in these sorts of issues, then you need a quick Big 12 history lesson.

Former governor Rick Perry loaded the Texas A&M board of regents with his appointees and that helped grease the rails for the school’s move to the Southeastern Conference. Perry thought it would help him in the South in the 2012 presidential election, but he got as close to the nomination as the Aggies have gotten to a national championship.

When the Big 12 was formed, the Big Eight Conference schools preferred to go into business with just Texas and Texas A&M (back when a 10-team conference appeared powerful). Texas governor Ann Richards and lieutenant governor Bob Bullock exerted political pressure to have their alma maters – Baylor and Texas Tech – included in the new league.

Thursday’s political palavering elicited a “no comment” from the Big 12 office and this statement from Oklahoma president David Boren: “As chairman of the Big 12 Conference it is not appropriate for me to comment on the prospects of any individual university.”

The loquacious Boren, a former U.S. Senator and governor of Oklahoma, used 750 words to answer a question on Tuesday’s teleconference that opened the expansion Pandora’s Box.

His brief 22-word statement Thursday was yet another surprising development in our favorite soap opera: How The Big 12 Turns.

Barnhouse: Big 12 expansion has become political theatre

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