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Bill Powers

UT will start conference shopping

More dominoes.

University of Texas President William Powers Jr. was given the authority Monday to explore changing conferences, and Texas will seriously consider trying to join the Pacific-12 and the Atlantic Coast conferences if not other possibilities, sources close to the realignment discussions told the American-Statesman and business partner Hookem.com.

Powers was given the charge of leading Texas’ realignment search following an hour-plus long executive session meeting of the UT regents. Powers has the authority to keep Texas in the Big 12, but any recommendations to move to another conference would have to be approved by regents.

That regents authorized Powers was not a surprise in a month that has already been full of them in college athletics. The landscape there appears to be shifting to super conferences, raising the question of whether the already-diminished Big 12 can survive even with the continued support of the Longhorns.

Oklahoma gave its president even more authority to act on realignment during its regents’ meeting Monday, and Oklahoma State regents will meet Wednesday. OU could be the school that petitions the Pac-12 for membership soon and possibly lead Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State on the path to join as well, sources said.

[…]

All sources say the process could still be an extended one and take anywhere from one to three weeks because of the sensitivity of the talks and the complexity of the issues. Texas remains keenly interested in preserving its Longhorn Network , but conference membership elsewhere will make that a thorny problem.

On Monday, Powers called the conference consideration an “ongoing process” and then quickly ducked into an elevator without answering questions from reporters.

OU president David Boren was more talkative. He acknowledged that if OU left the Big 12, it would focus mainly on the Pac-12 and said the school has had “very warm, very receptive,” conversations with that conference.

Boren, however, said, the OU board’s directive “is not a Texas A&M-like situation.” He added, “This is not an announcement that we are leaving for the Pac-12. … No one should read into today that we have made a decision.”

But you’re sure as heck thinking about it. Whatever UT and OU may be thinking about, the PAC 12 is not on the menu at this time.

The Pacific 12 Conference released a statement Tuesday night saying it was not pursuing expansion plans at this time.

“After careful review we have determined that it is in the best interests of our member institutions, student-athletes and fans to remain a 12-team conference,” Commissioner Larry Scott said in the statement.

The decision came after Scott met with conference presidents.

Of course, as we know with the SEC and Texas A&M, “not at this time” does not mean “forever”. Word was that not all PAC 12 schools were on board with further expansion, which most likely means they didn’t think they were getting enough out of what had been proposed so far. I’m sure not ready to say that the wheels have stopped spinning just yet.

Be that as it may, if the PAC-12 doesn’t work out, another possible landing spot for UT could be the increasingly-misnamed Atlantic Coast Conference, which added Syracuse and Pittsburgh to its roster for the 2014 season. Why the ACC? There would be no obstacle to UT keeping the Longhorn Network under its existing rules. The ACC is now up to 14 members, so one presumes they only have two more slots available, if they are still looking to expand.

The potential shuffling at the top has those not at the top considering their options as well.

The Big East and Big 12 might join together in their fight for survival.

School and conference officials from the two leagues have been discussing ways to merge what’s left of them if Texas and Oklahoma leave the Big 12, a person involved in the discussions told The Associated Press.

[…]

If the Big 12 loses Texas, OU, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, it would leave Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State scrambling.

Without Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the Big East still has six football members: Cincinnati, Connecticut, South Florida, Rutgers, Louisville and West Virginia. Plus, TCU is slated to join in 2012, giving the Big East a presence in Big 12 country.

[…]

Also talking about a merger is the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA. Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson told the Idaho Statesmen that he and CUSA Commissioner Britton Banowsky “resurrected this consolidation concept with Conference USA from a football-only standpoint.”

A union between those schools could create one BCS automatic qualifying league, but there’s no guarantee some of those schools won’t also look elsewhere.

There’s no guarantees of anything except more chaos and the pursuit of the almighty dollar. It’s even possible that the Big XII could remain intact, if the right terms are met.

Texas has never wavered in its hopes to keep the Big 12 afloat, but is equally determined to keep its lucrative Longhorn Network.

But on Tuesday, a high-ranking Oklahoma school administrator said the school would consider staying put in the Big 12 if Texas agrees to a “reformed” version of the conference that includes changes to the Longhorn Network and if Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe was removed, The Oklahoman newspaper reported.

“It’s going to take major, major reforms,” the source told The Oklahoman as conditions for staying put. “We’d have to have an interim commissioner.”

Tune in tomorrow when everything you know today may prove to be wrong.

UPDATE: Long live the Big XII! Until something better comes along, anyway.

Who wants a “first class” university?

The Constitution says we’re supposed to have one, but the budget says otherwise.

[The University of Texas] has been a member of the Association of American Universities, a group of leading research universities in the United States and Canada, since 1929. Numerous programs — including accounting, Latin American history, and chemical, petroleum and civil engineering — are standouts. Its research expenditures exceed $500 million a year, an economic boon for the region and state. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT 13th among public universities .

But UT has struggled in its years-long quest to plant itself among the very best public institutions of higher learning, which include the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina. Now, with a 5 percent budget cut imposed by state officials and double-digit reductions proposed on top of that, the question arises:

Is UT’s “first class” status in jeopardy?

“The answer is yes. It is being threatened,” UT President William Powers Jr. said in an interview. “Even in good times, even just at the margins, the opportunities to really soar are limited by a lack of funding.”

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who oversees the Austin flagship and 14 other academic and health campuses, put it this way: “It is an institution of the first class, but you can’t take it for granted.”

Certainly, Powers and Cigarroa have an interest in maximizing the issue. So too do the Republicans quoted in the story have an interest in minimizing it. No one is disputing that budget cuts will affect UT, and I don’t think anyone would argue that it will make it a better or more prestigious university. We just kinda hope it won’t be too bad. My opinion is that this is the same as with the public schools and all of the corners that will be cut to make the budget math work: We shouldn’t be surprised when we see tangible evidence of decline, and we damn well better remember who’s responsible for it.

“Non-profit” college sports

Really good read in the Statesman.

One way to view Mack Brown’s recent salary modification, to as much as $5.7 million this year with performance bonuses, is that the University of Texas’s generosity has made him the highest-paid college coach in the country.

But there’s another way to look at it: Brown is also one of the country’s best-compensated nonprofit executives.

As a UT employee, Brown works for a educational charity that, as a nonprofit, benefits from generous tax breaks. His salary, critics say, is the latest symptom of a haphazard public policy that lumps UT’s football program into the same category as its law school and Blanton Museum of Art.

To tax analysts, the issue is not how much money the Longhorns football team makes — $87.6 million last year — or whether the coach deserves his salary. Rather, said John Colombo, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, the question is: “Is Texas paying Mack Brown $5 million for his contribution to the educational environment at the university, or because it wants to win football games?”

How policymakers answer is worth millions of dollars to large and successful programs such as UT’s. Federal laws require a nonprofit’s income and expenses both to be tied to its charitable mission. But a number of critics, as well as a recent federal report, say the nation’s biggest college athletics programs are raising and spending money in ways increasingly divorced from education.

“The large sums generated through advertising and media rights by schools with highly competitive sports programs raise the question of whether those sports programs have become side businesses for schools,” a May 2009 study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office noted.

Read the whole thing. I did not realize that pretty much all of the revenue that universities derive from athletics is tax free. There’s a lot of room for reform in there, but given the history and the repeated interference by Congress on behalf of the NCAA when the IRS has tried to declare a particular revenue stream taxable, I wouldn’t hold out much hope. For another perspective on this, read UT President Bill Powers’ blog post called “A Self-Sustaining Athletics Program”, which was published a couple of days before that Statesman story. (Thanks to Jake Silverstein for pointing out Tower’s blog.)