Published with permission of The Waco Tribune-Herald:
Baylor University's decision to keep its legal powder dry and in readiness amid Texas A&M's flight from the Big 12 and into the waiting arms of the Southeastern Conference has predictably drawn fire, most of it from A&M higher-ups. No surprise there. But Aggie outrage is wholly unjustified considering their own actions.
While we don't ordinarily condone legal fireworks, Baylor has due cause to be more than a little peeved -- and so do the other Big 12 schools that now stand with it. When Baylor and other conference members made commitments to the league's future only a year ago, Baylor kept its word. Texas A&M clearly did not.
If our conversations with everyday Aggies are any indication, many had no idea that A&M officials were secretly discussing a deal that would undermine the very pact A&M agreed to with its Big 12 brethren. No wonder some Aggies -- however much they bleed maroon -- are baffled by this sudden rush into the Southeastern Conference. They never saw it coming.
School loyalty may mandate their falling into line, but some must yet ponder deals made behind closed doors, away from the eyes and ears of Aggie fans for whom tradition and honor actually mean something.
Making a point
Baylor on Wednesday shook the rafters of college athletics after SEC members voted to admit A&M into its league. The SEC's only demand: All members of the Big 12 had to sign waivers vowing not to take legal action over the move. Ironically, the reason the SEC obviously demanded this was because of those agreements that A&M is busting to join the SEC. Its bid has now fueled talk of further Big 12 departures to that hungry conference behemoth off in the West called the Pac-12.
When Baylor refused to sign a waiver foregoing a legal challenge, the deal involving Texas A&M and the SEC ground to a halt. After a meeting of Big 12 presidents on Wednesday, most sided with Baylor, refusing to rule out legal action if the SEC deal causes harm to the Big 12 Conference and its schools.
Yes, some critics have already pummeled Baylor for being a spoilsport in holding up this deal. But why shouldn't Baylor take a stand? It invested heavily in a deal it thought it had with regional schools such as Texas A&M. That investment includes further bolstering an athletic department that has readily proved to be competitive in football, basketball, tennis and track. And Baylor has sought to more actively market not only itself but the entire Big 12.
Much of this investment was contingent on the continued viability of the Big 12. And the fact that most other Big 12 schools agree should suggest this isn't just a Baylor problem. And if it was, it isn't anymore.
What's at risk
This dustup goes to the heart of what is befalling college athletics. If the Big 12 is allowed to collapse because of the lure of TV contracts and big money, its destruction could also rob fans of cherished, longtime rivalries that get the blood pumping in ways that competition with far-flung opponents simply does not. Its destruction could mean hardships for student-athletes whose rigid academic strivings are compromised even more by complicated travel logistics. Its destruction could mean students and fans can't attend many away games because of the inconveniences that one encounters when crossing up to two time zones.
Beyond that, the so-called superconferences forming threaten to be cold-hearted Goliaths where loyalties constantly shift, where money and TV interests fly in the face of NCAA efforts to clean up college sports, where the unique concept of Texas athletics is slowly but surely eroded. Sports fans must ultimately ask themselves if bigger is always better.
In taking its principled stand this week, Baylor is asking all the right questions.