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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

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S.M.U. Waits, Makes its Case

Back-to-back bowl berths, deep-pocketed alumni and a solid — if just a bit tarnished — history has convinced S.M.U. it can roll with the big boys. In an interview yesterday, S.M.U. president R. Gerald Turner said the school is “pushing for” a spot in the Big 12, perhaps looking ahead to a conference that could be without Texas A&M as soon as 2012, hinging on whether that program can cement its relationship with the SEC. Maybe the Mustangs are looking for a seat at the table regardless of whether the Aggies head elsewhere, though the Big 12 has said several times that expansion beyond the current 10-team alignment is not on the table. So the Mustangs hold their breath, wait and, in the meantime, make their case.

Opportunity may come sooner rather than later. This afternoon, Texas A&M sent official notice to Dan Beebe and the Big 12 that it would “explore conference options.” The operative word there is official, as it was already widely known that the Aggies were looking to leave behind a Big 12 seemingly titled in rival Texas’s favor — I say seemingly with tongue planted in cheek.

A&M president R. Bowen Loftin, in a statement this afternoon:

“As I have indicated previously, we are working very deliberately to act in the best long-term interests of both Texas A&M and the State of Texas. This truly is a 100-year decision. While we understand the desire of all parties to quickly reach a resolution, these are extremely complex issues that we are addressing methodically… As a public university, Texas A&M owes it to the state’s taxpayers to maximize our assets and generate additional revenues both now and well into the future.”

But that the university itself made a public statement underlines the speed with which A&M wants to solidify its athletic future. Why else would A&M make an official statement today, nine days from opening kickoff? This might not be a distraction to the players, though it could be an outside storyline Mike Sherman and his staff might want to avoid rather than raise with a roster primed for a run towards a B.C.S. bowl.

Better late than never, and after dallying with the idea 12 months ago it seems like A&M is full speed ahead, resolute in its desire to leave Texas and the rest of the Big 12 behind in favor of the SEC. One day later, you can see why Turner made his statements to The Dallas Morning News about his belief that S.M.U. is a solid fit for the soon-to-be nine-team conference.

What would the Mustangs bring to the table? Money, and lots of it. That never hurts. A solid coach. A nice two-year turnaround. An influential alumni base — again, with deep pockets and friends in high places. And S.M.U. is located smack-dab in the heart of Texas, Dallas, and while the conference has already tapped into that market it can’t hurt to have another foothold in one of America’s capital cities.

Houston shares the latter with the Mustangs. The difference, in my opinion: when S.M.U. talks, people around the state listen. And that, when push comes to shove, may very well be why the Mustangs become the 10th team rather than the Cougars.

Am I putting the cart ahead of the horse? A&M first needs to leave, mind you, and then the Big 12 needs to formally christen a search committee in order to locate a few viable options as its replacement. Then the list needs to get narrowed. Then two or three teams state their case, grease a few palms — that’s a joke — and wait for the decision.

Can S.M.U. get the Big 12 to ignore the whole, you know, death penalty thing? Can S.M.U. convince the Big 12 that two years of bowl play means this program has what it takes to play on the B.C.S. conference level? Can S.M.U. recruit alongside the rest of the conference, or will the academic restrictions be too much to overcome?

You know how the Mustangs can really make their case to the Big 12? Sept. 4, 2011: S.M.U. at A&M. Forget about winning. But if S.M.U. can hang tight, not get embarrassed and give A&M a game, it would prove that the program’s football product can hang with the Big 12. That would be a big step for a university that can impress the conference in many ways off the field.

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  1. jjtiller says:

    Biggest game of the first week :)

  2. Gotham Gator says:

    SMU rejoining the remnants of the league it helped kill is certainly intriguing, but I’m not sure the Mustangs are there yet. Attendance at Mustang home games was barely over 23,500 last season. While a move to the BCS would certainly increase that total, would it rise to meet the Big 12′s standards?

    Besides, other candidates offer the chance to expand into new TV markets. How about Louisville? over 50,000/game last year, and a top basketball program to challenge the Jayhawks. Memphis has attendance similar to SMU’s, but a much better hoops history and would expand the TV market attractively. And if the Big 12 wants to stay in Texas, there is always Houston, which averaged over 31,000 fans.

  3. Misthaufen says:

    SMU is way down the list of potential Bevo 10 replacements, below BYU, L’ville, and AFA, among other teams.

    Bevo could have had TCU last year and A&M’s departure would have meant less. Now, TCU would be stupid to join even if offered.

    Between SMU and Houston, Houston makes a whole lot more sense. Houston helps to hold the Houston market — A&M and LSU almost make Houston a SEC town. Houston already is raising money for a new stadium ($60mil or more already raised). There is no danger of DFW becoming a SEC town (although it may be a Big East town….)

    Of course, BYU is the truly logical choice for a Bevo 10, but the conference really needs to get to 12 in order to achieve stability and survive.

  4. whodoes says:

    23k fans. 23k fans. 23k fans.

    Even if the move to the Big 12 caused SMU to sell out all of its games, its stadium is so small that it would still be dead last in the conference in attendance – by a significant margin. And if SMU expanded to 40k and managed to sell out all of their games in the expanded stadium, they’d be roughly on par with…Baylor, in a race to see who could finish last in conference attendance.

    Having some rich people with connections in the Texas statehouse is nice, but it doesn’t make a program attractive all by itself. Indeed, I doubt Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State give a rip about what kind of friends SMU has in the Texas statehouse (and neither does UT, for that matter).

    They’d be better off trying to raid the Big East for teams like Louisville, Cincinnati, or TCU. The best feasible non-AQ options are BYU (from a pure monetary standpoint, ignoring cultural/distance issues, it is BYU by a country mile) or Air Force. Even within Texas, schools like Houston and UTEP may have better arguments than SMU – heck, even Rice outdraws SMU.

    I give credit to SMU for taking the public initiative and managing to get the media to take them seriously as a Big 12 possibility. But I suspect if they really felt like they had a good shot, they wouldn’t be holding press conferences begging to be considered.

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