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Coronavirus and college sports update

What life is like for Texas’ college football teams.

In the world of COVID-19-era college football, Sunday is a day not for resting but for testing.

Each Sunday this fall brings a new set of checklists and guideposts that players and staff members must negotiate before they can think about playing, let alone winning, on any given Saturday.

It has not been a uniformly smooth road for Texas’ 12 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Nine of the 12 have had at least one game on their revised schedules affected by their own positive COVID tests or those of an opponent.

This weekend alone, Texas A&M and Rice were idle because their games against Tennessee and Louisiana Tech, respectively, were postponed as college football enters the final month of its truncated, delayed regular season. Nationally, 15 games were postponed or canceled this weekend.

But with the exception of Rice, which delayed its season opener into October, each of the 12 Texas schools will exit this weekend having played at least a half-dozen games, which speaks to their success in maintaining the discipline required for success and health.

“We’re asking 18- to 22-year-olds in the most social time of their lives to be more mature than many adults are being,” said Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades. “They’re doing a pretty darn good job of following the rules and being disciplined.”

A month remains, though, in which things can go awry quickly.

“We can’t let our guard down,” said Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork. “We can’t get too comfortable, especially with our communities surging right now. But everyone has done a great job.”

While each of the five conferences represented by the 12 Texas schools — the American Athletic, Big 12, Conference USA, Southeastern and Sun Belt — have their own weekly procedures, all are on the same approximate schedule.

You can read on for the details, but basically it’s testing on Sunday and at least one other day, contact tracing and quarantining anyone who was in contact with someone who tested positive, coordinating with the visiting teams, and so on. With the exception of Texas State, every school that is playing football has had at least one game postponed, with those that had scheduled non-conference games having them mostly or all canceled. I’ll be honest, this has gone better than I expected in terms of getting the games played – the effect of the outbreak in the towns that have these universities is another story, but that’s about more than just the games – though the wisdom of doing this at all seems to have been accepted regardless of the outcome. I think we’re going to be debating that for a long time.

Meanwhile, this is the time of year when college basketball normally gets underway. Suffice it to say, there are challenges. At least football is played outdoors, where some of the COVID risks can be minimized. If there’s going to be basketball of any kind before a vaccine is fully rolled out, I don’t see how it can be done with fans in the stands. We’ll know what they’re up to soon.

The Big 12 will play football

That’s their plan, anyway.

The start of the Big 12 Conference’s college football season will move forward as scheduled, conference officials said Wednesday, meaning four major Texas football programs are one step closer to playing this fall.

“Ultimately, our student-athletes have indicated their desire to compete in the sports they love this season and it is up to all of us to deliver a safe, medically sound, and structured academic and athletic environment for accomplishing that outcome,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby in a statement. The season will kick off Sept. 26, with the conference championship pegged for Dec. 12.

Baylor University, Texas Christian University, Texas Tech University and the University of Texas at Austin are Big 12 members. The conference presidents’ decision to allow football during the coronavirus pandemic was made official Wednesday morning, a day after the Big Ten and the Pac-12 announced their seasons would be postponed until the spring semester.

Bowlsby said member schools have committed to enhanced COVID-19 testing, with three tests per week in high contact sports. Non-conference football opponents must also adhere to testing protocols that match conference standards.

Texas A&M University is part of the Southeastern Conference, which has also signaled its intent to allow teams to play this fall.

“We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around COVID-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day,” said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey in a statement Tuesday.

So that’s two Power 5 conferences not playing in the fall, two that say they are, and the ACC. Of course, there are a ton of questions that will have to be addressed before this can be taken seriously, such as “how exactly are you going to keep all those people safe”, “what will be the protocol when someone (or several someones) tests positive”, and “do you really think that allowing fans in the stands is a good idea”. You can have all the bravado you want, but you better have some idea of what you’re doing when something inevitably goes wrong. In the meantime, all I can say is that it’s going to be an interesting autumn. Or possibly spring, if things do change. Reform Austin has more.

What people use B-Cycle for

From Rice University:

A new report from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research finds that Sun Belt city residents are most likely to use bike-share programs for recreation, compared with users in the Midwest or Northeast, who regularly use the same programs for their daily commute.

The report, “Shifting Gears: Framing Bike-sharing Trends in Sun Belt Cities,” examines how consumers use bike-sharing programs in Austin, Fort Worth, Houston and Denver. The study is the first of several to be released by the Kinder Institute in the coming months and seeks to advance the understanding of the dynamics already at play in Sun Belt bike-share systems.

Bike-share systems are a growing part of the transportation options and recreational landscape of many cities. They place rentable bikes at a network of kiosks with bike docks and pay stations across a city. At most hours of the day, users can check out bikes from any kiosk after buying a daily pass or purchasing a longer-term membership. Riders can return bikes to any kiosk in the network.

“The flexibility of the system allows riders to use bikes for a variety of reasons – to commute to work, go out for a drink, exercise, run errands or take a relaxing ride,” said Kyle Shelton, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Kinder Institute and the study’s co-author. “Riders can engage in these pursuits without needing to own and maintain a personal bike, wait for transit or drive a car.”

The researchers grouped bike trips into four categories: weekday two-location (starting and ending at different kiosk locations), weekend two-location, weekday round-trip and weekend round-trip. Differentiating among the four types revealed that the four cities have a diverse set of bike-share programs and varied usage.

The study found that bike-sharing varies considerably across individual kiosks. In all four cities, the overwhelming majority of kiosks generate more two-location trips than round-trips. And in all four systems, round-trip activity is concentrated at a handful of kiosks located in parks or along bike trails.

“Recent discussions of bike sharing have focused on the large systems in Northeastern and Midwestern cities and tend to emphasize bike sharing as convenient means of commuting to work,” Shelton said. “While riders in Sun Belt cities make trips for a variety of purposes, including commuting, many riders — especially in the Texas cities – use bike share for recreation. Many of these kiosks near parks or bike trails are among the most heavily used stations in all four cities.”

In Houston and Fort Worth, only about one-third of trips are weekday two-location trips. The remaining two-thirds of the trips in these cities are round-trips or occur on weekends.

“This suggests that these programs cater primarily to recreational users,” said Kelsey Walker, a postbaccalaureate research fellow at the Kinder Institute and the study’s co-author.

However, in Denver and Austin, more than half of users’ trips are weekday two-location trips.

“These trips are most likely to replace peak-hour commuting trips made by other transportation modes,” Walker said.

Shelton and Walker hope the report will provide a richer understanding of how people use bike-share programs in lower-density and traditionally car-centric cities in the Sun Belt. As cities in the Sun Belt and around the country add, expand and implement bike-sharing systems, subsequent studies will examine kiosk characteristics and network dynamics more thoroughly.

“We hope that these findings will lead cities to view bike share not only as a novel form of public transit, but also as an accessible and exciting piece of park programming,” Shelton and Walker said. “Moreover, we hope that a closer look at the bike-sharing activity in these four cities will better equip decision-makers across the country to develop locally appropriate bike-sharing systems that capitalize on their cities’ existing strengths.”

You can see the full report here. There’s a brief video that accompanies it that is embedded at the Kinder Institute homepage and also in the Chron story that was written about this. That story notes that more of the downtown B-Cycle checkouts are one-way trips. With a big expansion coming, the expectation is that there will be more such trips overall in Houston. Not that there’s anything wrong with people using B-Cycle for recreation. I myself have used it entirely for short trips, mostly downtown where it’s a bit too far to walk in a timely manner and no other mode of transportation makes sense. Whatever people are using it for, people are using it, and there’s a lot more to come of it.

91.7 FM will be sold again

The radio station formerly known as KTRU will have another new home soon.

Houston Public Media, which operates the University of Houston’s broadcasting properties, says it will sell the frequency and transmitter for KUHA (91.7 FM) while retaining the station’s classical music format via online streaming and an HD Radio subchannel of KUHF (88.7 FM).

The university paid $9.5 million in 2010 to purchase 91.7 FM from Rice University, which operated the station as KTRU. It was relaunched as UH’s third broadcasting property along with KUHF, its news and National Public Radio outlet, and KUHT (Channel 8).

Lisa Shumate, general manager of Houston Public Media, said the decision to sell, which was approved by UH regents Thursday, reflected the organization’s need to focus on “the best piece of technology and the best use of donor funds.”

“We are already in HD and are streaming (with the classical music format),” Shumate said.

“Why would you pay for another transmitter and tower when if you take the time you can tell the public how they can get better sound using (HD Radio) at 88.7?”

See here for the KTRU story. I’m not going to relitigate any of that, but I suppose one could argue that if the frequency and transmitter no longer count as “the best piece of technology” out there because of HD radio, then Rice sold at the right time and probably got a pretty good price. That doesn’t address how the sale went down or any of the other issues around it, so I doubt that will make any KTRU backer any happier, but it’s something. KUHF, which had the story first, has more.

Quidditch, Texas-style

We are a hotbed of quality Quidditch in this state.

As cars drove by the soccer fields at Texas State University on a gray Sunday afternoon this past February, they slowed down to take in a strange scene: a dozen people running around holding broomsticks between their legs.

Anyone familiar with the Wizarding World of the Harry Potter universe would immediately recognize the activity as quidditch, the fictional sport invented by the books’ author J.K. Rowling. Of course, the version described in the books and seen in the movie adaptations is, well, magical, with the wizard characters flying on broomsticks across a field of play that takes place primarily in the sky. But a decade ago, it was adapted to real-life play by the only group of people who have the time and inclination to do such things: college students.

In 2005, some enterprising kids at Vermont’s Middlebury College created “muggle quidditch,” and since then the sport has rapidly grown. The US Quidditch Association formed in 2010 and now oversees more than 4,000 athletes playing for nearly 200 teams across seven regions in America. An International Quidditch Association formed in 2013 governs the dozens of teams that span more than twenty countries across the globe. The sport even has its own World Cup, which will be in its eighth iteration this weekend, when 80 teams from the US and Canada will battle it out for the championship in South Carolina.

Almost as astounding as the sport’s explosive growth is Central Texas’s now total domination of it. Five of the eight teams that made the quarterfinals for last year’s World Cup—UT, Baylor, Lone Star, Texas A&M, and Texas State—were from the area; three of them—UT, A&M, and Texas State—played in the semifinals. (UT beat Texas State in the final match, clinching its second World Cup championship in a row.) And going into the 2015 World Cup, four central Texas teams are listed in the top 10 overall standings, with Lone Star sitting at the top.

“The level of play in the southwest region is at such a higher level than the rest of the country,” says Beth Clem, a first-year graduate student at Texas State who plays on the university’s team. She credits this, partly, to the state’s football culture. Despite its cutesy origins, quidditch is a high-intensity contact sport, an advantage in Texas, where kids grow up on gridiron. “Half of the guys on our teams played football. They want to tackle; they want to be aggressive. We’re big, so we just wanna go through people.”

Ethan Sturm,* a player from Tufts University who is the co-founder and current managing editor of the quidditch analysis website, The Eighth Man, puts it a bit more bluntly: “You’ve got this hub in Texas where the players are simply more athletic than in other parts of the country.”

I’ve actually seen “muggle Quidditch”, a couple of years ago at Rice. There was a tournament featuring teams from a half dozen or so area colleges, including Rice, and someone in the MOB had the bright idea to put together a pep band for it. How could I resist, especially given how much my kids love Harry Potter? The matches themselves were oddly compelling to watch, though as with most sports the perspective from field level wasn’t as good as the more elevated stadium view would have been. Still, we enjoyed it, and I can see why it’s taken off. If I were 30 years younger, I might give it a try myself.

Eighteen minutes into the game, the “snitch” entered the pitch. In J.K. Rowling’s version of quidditch, the snitch is a small, gold, winged ball that is introduced to the game after an arbitrary and unspecified period of standard play. The magical item flies around the pitch, and a “seeker” from each team (this is Harry’s position in the books) is tasked with attempting to capture it, winning his or her team 150 points and ending the game. In IRL quidditch, the snitch is actually a person dressed entirely in yellow running around with a tennis ball in a tube sock tucked into the back of a his pants. When the snitch enters the field (the referee signals him to jump in), each team deploys a seeker to try and grab the ball from the snitch, who can use both of his arms to hold off them off. It’s a highly physical battle, and the interaction between the seekers and the snitch looks like a cross between a game of tag and a wrestling match. The game is over when a seeker pulls the sock with the tennis ball off the snitch’s body, with that seeker’s team getting 30 points for the effort. When Lone Star’s seeker finally tackled the snitch, the team claimed victory—and the top spot in the US Quidditch Association’s rankings going into the World Cup.

This makes me happy. While I have no doubt that actual wizard Quidditch would be awesome to watch, the scoring rules never made sense to me. Scoring 150 points for the snitch means that the goals scored by the chasers are basically meaningless. I’ve always considered Quidditch to be a sport invented by someone who doesn’t understand sports. Changing the score for getting the snitch to 30 points makes the job of the chasers a lot more relevant, and introduces an element of strategy that the original game sorely lacked. Now it may or may not be in a given team’s interest to grab the snitch, and that situation can change in an instant. I know, I know, it’s a silly, geeky thing, but if you’re going to do this you may as well do it in a sensible way.

UH heads to the Big East

I wish them all the best.

The Big East Conference officially announced the additions of the University of Houston, Boise State, Central Florida, San Diego State and SMU on Wednesday.

UH, Central Florida and SMU are being added as all-sports members to the league while Boise State and San Diego State are joining as football-only members.

The additions will take effect in time for the 2013 football season.

“Over the last 32 years, the Big East Conference has constantly evolved along with the landscape of college athletics,” said Big East Commissioner John Marinatto. “The inclusion of these five great Universities, which bring a unique blend of premier academics, top markets, strong athletics brands and outstanding competitive quality, marks the beginning of a new chapter in that evolution. We are proud to welcome these schools to the Big East family.

“Much like the conference as a whole, the Big East name — though derived 32 years ago based on the geography of our founding members — has evolved into a highly respected brand that transcends borders, boundaries or regions. It’s national. Our membership makeup is now reflective of that.”

As things stand now, the reconstituted Big East will have ten members – I think it’s safe to assume that Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia will be allowed to make their exits prior to the 2013 season despite the lawsuit onslaught that has followed their initial announcements. Air Force and Navy may also be on board by then, which would allow the Big East to have two divisions, with the Big East West containing SDSU, Boise, Air Force, UH, SMU, and either Cincy or Louisville.

That all assumes that the five current Big East members stay put. As Andrea Adelson notes, that’s far from a sure thing.

The Big East had little choice but to add Houston, SMU, Central Florida and football-only members Boise State and San Diego State. After Pitt, Syracuse, TCU and West Virginia bolted the conference, the league had to do something to remain viable. That meant stretching itself, making Boise State its No. 1 priority to help boost its football profile. Boise State needed a West partner — hello, San Diego State.

None of this makes much geographical sense. There are no regional rivalries. There is no sense of brotherhood, of shared goals, of a common cause. Because the Big East was indeed a sinking ship in desperate need of a life preserver, it had to trade in the Backyard Brawl for some Red-Eye Rivalry.

[…]

These head-scratching moves do not answer any questions about the future of the Big East, not at all. What would make these 10 disparate universities band together to stick together? The first incarnation of the Big East failed. So did the second. How is the third any stronger than a conference that had Miami, Virginia Tech and West Virginia all on board?

Simply put, these moves are more of a stopgap measure and less of a stabilizing force. Once the conference seas start shifting again, you can bet some of the current members are going to want to jump as quickly as Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia and TCU did.

Think about it: Rutgers, Cincinnati, Louisville and Connecticut have gauged the interest of other conferences. According to the lawsuit West Virginia filed against the Big East to try and get out of the league for the 2012 season, representatives from those four schools “have been engaged in discussions with other sports conferences, including the ACC, SEC and Big Ten for the purpose of trying to obtain invitations to join these conferences and withdraw from the Big East.”

Indeed, Louisville practically threw itself at the Big XII a few weeks back, and UConn’s lust for the ACC is well known. It’s possible this mashup will settle their wanderlust, or will keep the predators at bay. I’m not sure I’d bet on that, however.

As for the conferences that the five joiners leave behind, it looks like they will get together and try to love one another right now form their own mega-conference.

C-USA and the Mountain West are considering a merger in all sports. Sources have indicated that Craig Thompson, the current commissioner of the Mountain West, would become the commissioner of the new merged league, while Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky would step down.

A vote on the merger could come by next month, sources said.

The merged league would consist of: East Carolina, Marshall, Memphis, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB and UTEP from C-USA and Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming from the Mountain West along with new members Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada for a 17-team conference. However, Air Force remains a viable candidate to join the Big East.

So, it’s more or less the old WAC-16 with some of the names changed to protect the innocent. I can hardly wait for the MOB’s “Annual Salute To The Everything Old Is New Again Conference” show next September. Hell, I’d start working on a script for it myself if I had any confidence that things won’t change again between now and then.

Anyway. As I said, I wish UH the best of luck. Nobody knows what the college football landscape will look like in a year, so if something comes along that looks like it may be better than what you have, you may as well grab for it. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman, in whose district UH resides, is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Air Force is staying put.

(more…)

Shunning A&M

It’s not just the UT-A&M football game that’s on the endangered list.

The SEC-bound Aggies have said they’d love to keep playing UT as a non-conference foe, but Longhorns athletic director DeLoss Dodds has said the school’s football schedule is full at least through 2018. That isn’t the case for all sports, but so far A&M has come up dry in scheduling future contests of any sort with UT.

“There doesn’t seem to be nearly as much interest from the other side,” A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said Monday.

[…]

Byrne has instructed his coaches to contact their UT counterparts about scheduling future non-conference games – with no luck to date.

“I reached out about four weeks ago to Texas and emailed and said we’d love to keep the series going,” A&M soccer coach G. Guerrieri said. “I haven’t heard back.”

A&M baseball coach Rob Childress said he and UT counterpart Augie Garrido have yet to discuss whether to continue playing as non-conference foes.

I’d speculated about this before, and I can’t say I’m surprised to see UT give A&M a cold shoulder. There’s no real incentive for them to do otherwise. The question now is whether any other Texas-based school will follow the Longhorns’ lead. At least one so far seems to be doing so.

As for the Aggies perhaps playing another soon-to-be former Big 12 mate in Baylor, Bears athletic director Ian McCaw said via email Monday, “At this time, our future non-conference football schedules are filled through 2020. With regard to scheduling Texas A&M in other sports, it will be considered on a sport-by-sport basis.”

Anyone know what the status of future games between A&M and Texas Tech is? How about TCU, SMU, and UH? Rice has played A&M fairly regularly in baseball lately, and occasionally in basketball, but has not played them in football since the demise of the SWC. I don’t expect any changes there. Looks to me like the Aggies will be racking up the frequent flyer miles in the coming years.

KTRU supporters go to the FCC

I wish them luck, but I would not hold out much hope.

Supporters of Rice University’s student-run radio station have formally asked the Federal Communications Commission to deny the station’s sale to the University of Houston, contending it would weaken the educational mission intended by the FCC and harm listeners.

Joey Yang, a Rice student and KTRU station manager, said the goal is to stop the $9.5 million sale, which was approved last summer.

[…]

“There’s nothing like KTRU on the air right now,” Yang said. “(National Public Radio) and classical music are both well-served by KUHF’s current format. We think the loss of the independent, eclectic format is a net loss to the community.”

The petition was filed Friday, the final day public comments on the proposal were accepted by the FCC.

No date has been set for a decision, but FCC spokeswoman Janice Wise said the commission tries to act “in a timely manner.”

The full Petition to Deny is at Save KTRU. Here’s their press release, with a brief summary of what the petition contains:

  • The proposed programming for the new station would significantly decrease community-oriented programming, in contravention of the FCC’s emphasis on broadcast localism
  • The proposed assignment would be contrary to the educational purpose of the non-commercial FM license
  • Internet transmission of KTRU would be a poor substitute for FM broadcast
  • Houston-area non-commercial, educational FM licenses would be overly concentrated in the hands of UHS and non-independent operators
  • Questions exist as to the qualifications of UHS holding an additional NCE FM license
  • Rice and UH’s secrecy, deception excluded student and community participation
  • Characterization of FM radio license as a “declining asset” and sale at a below market price is harmful to the public interest

These are all valid points, I just don’t think they’re going get anywhere with them. I could be wrong. Regarding that penultimate bullet point, I refer you to the Houston Press “Turkey of the Year” award for David Leebron. I’m hard pressed to think of how they could have done this any worse.

What about the classical music?

This Chron story adds a dimension to the KTRU debate that I haven’t seen discussed before.

Classical music fans in the city’s southern and western suburbs may not be able to hear the station intended to serve their interests.

“It’s all static,” Clear Lake resident Jay Bennett said of the radio signal that would be designated for classical music and arts programming if the deal goes through. “It seems odd that they would degrade their (classical music) signal and alienate a lot of their listeners.”

[…]

[N]ot everyone in the sprawling metropolitan area now served by KUHF would be able to hear static-free programming on the new station, which would be renamed KUHC.

The 50,000-watt KTRU tower is north of Bush Intercontinental Airport, with its signal reaching about 30 miles in all directions, UH spokesman [Richard] Bonnin said.

Some people can hear it farther out, depending on the terrain and the listeners’ radio equipment.

KUHF’s 100,000-watt transmitter in Missouri City reaches 50 miles or more in all directions, Bonnin said.

The university knew about the limits to KTRU’s reach when it began negotiations for the transmitter and license, he said.

Their proposed solution to this is HD radio, which is to say pretty much what had existed before for those wanted classical or NPR 24/7. I have three questions:

1. How expensive would an upgrade to a 100Kw transmitter be? My guess is “very”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not feasible.

2. Would there be any technical reason why KTRU couldn’t be upgraded to 100Kw? Like another station nearby on the dial whose signal would be obliterated by a stronger one at 91.7, for example.

3. If the transmitter cannot be upgraded for whatever the reason, would this be grounds for the FCC to disapprove the sale?

I don’t know, so that’s why I’m asking. If you do know, please leave a comment.

Is the Big XII in UH’s future?

Now that we know the Big XII will survive, one question that now arises is whether it will try to replace defectors Nebraska and Colorado, and if so with which teams. Already, there’s a drumbeat for UH being included. Richard Justice runs out to the front of the parade.

The Big 12 almost certainly will add two teams at some point. It may be two years from now, maybe longer. TCU would seem to be a slam dunk for one of the invitations, and UH needs to position itself for the other.

To do so will require work on multiple fronts, to do things UH has been unable to do in the past. But this is a new era at UH.

I’ve kind of lost count of the number of New Eras there have been at UH since I came to town in 1988. I can’t help but feel like I’ve heard this all before – IF they can maintain recent success, and IF they can upgrade their facilities, and IF they can draw bigger crowds, then it will all come together. If they can in fact do these things, then UH makes some sense; there’s enough UT and A&M alums here to make Houston a part of the Big XII TV market already, so that’s not much of a factor. Let’s just say I’m not going to hold my breath on this.

UH President Dr. Renu Khator gets some space on the op-ed pages to chime in as well with a rah-rah piece for her school. I noticed that the one thing neither she nor Justice mentioned was the concept of rivalries – UH rivalries, I mean. As that was a large subject of discussion when everyone thought the Big XII was headed for the junk pile, and especially when it looked like A&M might part ways with UT, that seems a curious oversight. Not to put too fine a point on it, but UH’s biggest rival these days is Rice, whom UH would be leaving behind in this scenario. Yes, I know, UH sees UT as a rival. I have news for you: UH and UT are rivals in the same way that Rice and UT are rivals. The rivalry means a lot more to one school than it does to the other. If all that lip service to rivalries meant anything, then the UH-to-the-Big XII advocates should be calling for Rice to come along as well. As TCU is also being mentioned, bringing Rice along would give the conference 13 members, so we may as well go whole hog and grab SMU, too, to balance out TCU and get things back to an even number. And since that would make the Big XII moniker as accurate as “Big 10” and “PAC 10” are right now, a new name for it would be in order. I have a suggestion for that, too.

Anyway. If you want to see the UH thing happen, there’s a University of Houston Should Join The Big 12 Facebook group for you. There’s a similar group for TCU, too, if your tastes go that way. If you want to read more about how Dan Beebe pulled this off, read Kevin Sherrington and especially Dan Wetzel, who reminds us that this is a temporary peace. Sooner or later, something like what the PAC 10 was trying to do will come up again. Burka, the Trib, and Sean Pendergast have more.

Green University

Colleges and universities are on the green wagon.

“Green is good business,” said Pedro Alvarez, chairman of the civil and environmental engineering department at Rice University.

But it’s also about idealism.

“It’s not only a prerequisite to get a job but also something that genuinely appeals to this generation, how they could contribute to a better world,” said Barbara Brown Wilson, assistant director of the Center for Sustainable Development at the University of Texas at Austin.

Community colleges, boosted by stimulus funding and grants from the Department of Energy, push green technology work force training, from installing solar panels to building wind turbines.

Four-year schools have approached the field in different ways: Arizona State University established a School of Sustainability in 2007, offering bachelor’s and graduate degrees in the field. Rice offers a minor in energy and water sustainability.

Researchers at Texas Southern University are creating biodiesel from algae. The University of Houston has a class in carbon trading, and many architecture programs feature sustainable design as a core element.

But the concept is embedded in traditional disciplines, as well.

“Sustainability is part of everything we do,” said Alan Sams, executive associate dean of agriculture and life sciences at Texas A&M University.

I spent my college days taking impractical classes like math and economics, so I don’t have a personal basis for comparison. But I figure this is pretty standard stuff, and why not? It’s practical and it’s ideal, and that’s a combination you don’t get too often. The real question is what programs aren’t going this route, and why.

The university printing business

Interesting.

An experiment at Rice University to make scholarly research available to anyone with an Internet connection is trying to change the world of academic publishing.

[…]

“The costs of publishing are reduced by digital dissemination, but they are hardly eliminated,” said Charles Backus, director of the Texas A&M University Press, which produces as many as 70 books a year, including some available electronically.

Rice goes further: Every book may be read online for free; none are printed until an order is placed, with the payment covering the cost of printing and delivering the book. There is no sales staff, nor warehouses to hold unsold books.

“It’s unbelievable how expensive it is to produce and distribute these academic titles (in traditional press operations),” said Fred Moody, the sole employee at the Rice press and an evangelist for the digital future. “It’s a model for hemorrhaging cash.”

There is little disagreement about that.

Doesn’t seem like a propitious time for Rice to be investing in such a thing, but at least they’re doing it in a relatively low-cost way. My own alma mater revived their press a few years ago, via the more traditional means of a foundation grant. I wish Rice luck in its venture.