President Livingstone Testimony Before the Texas Senate Select Committee: Future of College Sports in Texas

August 2, 2021
Future of College Sports in Texas
Monday, August 2, 2021

Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.
Baylor University

Madame Chair and members of the Committee,

I am Dr. Linda A. Livingstone, and it is an honor to be here in front of this Committee, representing Baylor University as its 15th president. On behalf of the nearly 180,000 members of the Baylor Family – students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends – I appreciate the attention, and most of all, the sunlight that is being brought to the future of college sports in Texas by this Committee and members of the Texas Legislature.

I am also here before you today as a former student-athlete of the Big 8 Conference, which along with the Southwest Conference would eventually form the Big 12 Conference. This league has been a part of my entire life. I remember playing in Gallagher Hall as a young child while my dad coached basketball at Oklahoma State. I would then play basketball at OSU, where I met my future husband, Brad, who also played hoops for the Cowboys. I was a professor at Baylor when the Big 12 began competition in the fall of 1996. Just as the Big 12 is vitally important to Texas, it is just as important to me personally and now in my role as Baylor’s President.

Baylor was founded in 1845 – before Texas was even a state. And we are the oldest continuously operating university in Texas. We take our motto of Pro Ecclesia - Pro Texana seriously as our university was founded to serve both the church and the state of Texas. As I sit here in this hallowed Capitol, I am in awe of the many Baylor Bears who lived our university’s motto in this very building, leaders such as Governor Ann Richards and Governor Mark White, and several on this committee today, who have selflessly contributed to the state’s foundation on which we build and benefit from today.

I am joined by Mack B. Rhoades, IV, Baylor’s Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, and we come to you in one of the greatest periods of uncertainty in our university’s 176-year history. This is not of our own doing, but caused by the University of Texas’s transition from the Big 12 Conference to the Southeastern Conference, which started as a rumor and became an unfortunate reality in less than two weeks.

The purpose of my testimony today is not to disparage the University of Texas. We wish them well in the SEC once they fulfill their commitment and obligations to the Big 12 in 2025. We believe Baylor has been a formidable foe to the Longhorns during the days of the Southwest Conference and over the past 25 years as members of the Big 12. Baylor has won 87 Big 12 championships – second-most in the league to Texas – and is coming off recent national championships in men’s and women’s basketball and acrobatics and tumbling, a finals appearance in men’s tennis, a volleyball Final Four, and a 2020 appearance in the Sugar Bowl.

My focus, instead, is how we move forward as a university, as the Big 12 Conference and together, as the state of Texas. I would like to make three main points, then I look forward to a discussion with the Committee.

First, success in academics and athletics are intricately intertwined at top universities. Of the 65 “Power Five” schools in the country – members of the Big 12, Big 10, Pac-12, ACC and SEC, plus Notre Dame – all but three are classified as “Research 1” universities, or those with very high research activity, as classified by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The state of Texas currently leads the country with five Power 5 universities in Baylor, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

While a member of the Power 5, Baylor is currently classified as an R2 university, or with high research activity. We have been on an ambitious trajectory over the past four years to become R1. And because of the tremendous progress we have made, we anticipate reaching such elite academic status by 2024.

These academic aspirations have allowed Baylor to recruit superstar faculty members here to the state of Texas from other elite institutions from across the country. Researchers such as Dr. Annette von Jouanne, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a national leader in energy systems and renewable energy. She came to Baylor from Oregon State University and has worked on the first hybrid sport utility vehicle and partners with the U.S. Navy on electric ship development. We’ve also recruited Dr. Dwayne Simmons from UCLA to serve as professor and Chair of Biology. His internationally recognized research studies how sensory cells and neurons in the brain respond to aging.

Also, surveys of our prospective students have indicated they come to Baylor because of our unique combination of a Christian environment, academic excellence, mid-size enrollment and big-time athletics. Nearly half of our incoming freshmen class this fall comes from out of state – primarily from California and Colorado – and, interestingly, many of their parents are moving to Texas along with them.

It is vital that Baylor maintains its Power 5 status for the good of the state of Texas, but also for our own academic aspirations and ongoing financial viability as an elite university.

Second, Power 5 universities are key drivers to the economies of our state and local communities. Noted economist Ray Perryman has indicated that “the Waco, Lubbock and Fort Worth areas would face negative economic consequences due to effects on Baylor University, Texas Tech University, and Texas Christian University” with Texas’s move to the SEC. Depending on the future viability of the Big 12, this economic impact could reach $569.1 million in annual gross product and 7,615 jobs in our three communities alone. My heart goes out to the small business owner in Waco who is helping revitalize our downtown district and whose survival depends on revenues from marquee games against Texas and Oklahoma. And to family businesses in Lubbock and Fort Worth whose financial success is tied to the attendance and visibility that high-profile athletic competition brings to our communities. The prosperity of many Texans is at stake.

Undoubtedly, UT and the Austin area may benefit with the SEC move, but a state agency should not have the power to create such significant economic harm on other communities without appropriate levels of transparency and oversight.

Additionally, the Big 12’s headquarters is located in Irving and annually hosts the conference football championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, multiple Final Fours and also collaborates with the Cotton Bowl each year. The Big 12 Football Championship Game alone has an estimated economic impact of more than $25 million. These signature events, including the NCAA Tournaments hosted by Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech across many sports, bring hundreds of thousands to the great state of Texas and have been put in jeopardy by this recent conference upheaval.

Third, as institutions of higher education, we uphold a sacred trust with our constituents, and we must be held to a higher standard. Although Baylor is a private university, our history, as I indicated earlier, is closely knit with that of the state of Texas. The last time a Baylor President spoke before a legislative committee in Austin was because we had lost the focus of our primary purpose as an institution – to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service. We put winning football games and the associated prestige and financial resources above our responsibility and charge as an institution of higher education. Baylor absolutely intends to compete at the highest levels of intercollegiate athletics, but we learned from that experience that we must compete with integrity, respect for our colleagues, and with openness and transparency.

We look forward to working alongside our Big 12 colleagues TCU and Texas Tech and this Legislature for the public good of the state of Texas. That means a strong, collegial and collaborative environment for higher education in this state, the continued strength of the Big 12 and five strong Power 5 institutions in Texas, with the many economic and reputational advantages such recognition brings.

Thank you.

NOTE: Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Mack B. Rhoades, IV also testified before the Select Committee (PDF Document).
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