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Local lawmaker files bill to block Big 12 disruption

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 10:40 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A Waco-area politician is part of a team of Texas lawmakers working to stop disruption in the Big 12 conference from happening through legislation.

“Here we go again, the University of Texas Regents appear to be making a decision timed to avoidance of the legislature,” State Sen. Brian Birdwell told KWTX Tuesday. “It causes us great concern.”

Birdwell, R, Granbury, says the idea of the University of Texas and Oklahoma University leaving the conference is worrisome as both Baylor and Texas Christian University are in his district.

“Both schools and the impact of Texas and OU potentially leaving impact my district particularly significantly,” he said.

Birdwell says the UT system is a state entity, so it’s owned by the people of Texas.

“The people in Waco, and Lubbock, and Fort Worth are just as much customers of the UT system as students and faculty in the UT system,” said Birdwell. “So the real frustration here is that the University of Texas system has put itself on a track to impact potentially three other locals in the State of Texas adversely without any consideration to those impacts.”

He says the local impacts could be devastating.

“It’s not just athletics, but when you’re in a major conference, the faculty, student-athletes, the recruiting that comes with research opportunities, faculty opportunities, and the academics that come with being in a major conference, those things are impacted as well,” said Birdwell.

In response, Birdwell has decided to co-author SB 76 which requires approval from lawmakers before state universities can switch athletic conferences.

”I also filed this bill, not just to stop this, but it’s a shot at the other boards of regents that the legislature is not very happy with being left out and not consulted in such a major decision that impacts the entirety of the state,” said Birdwell.

The bill has significant hurdles: namely, it’s not on the current special agenda, and if it was, the House Democrats in D.C. would stop its companion bill, HB 298, from being voted on anyway.

“It is not helpful that the Democrats in the House are still departed, last week most of the Senate Democrats were back, but if they were here, ultimately, the bulk of the power to stop this belongs to the Governor, and that’s really what frustrates the legislature with the timing of this announcement where the legislature doesn’t have the freedom of maneuver in a regular session to address this without having to get permission from the Governor,” said Birdwell.

Birdwell says he’s already asked Governor Greg Abbott to make this part of the next special session.

While it’s a tall order, Birdwell says it’s not impossible.

“I think the way to stop this, most practically and immediately, is folks letting their concerns be heard, letting the Governor’s Office know,” said Birdwell. “I don’t want our listeners and viewers and constituents to go ‘oh it’s a done deal’, but this is certainly a mountain to climb.”

On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced the establishment of a select committee on the future of college sports in Texas to study the athletic and economic impact caused by UT leaving the Big 12.

Birdwell is on that committee and will be joined by local House Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson who was invited to take part in the Senate discussion because the House can’t conduct its own hearing due to the Democratic walk-out.

“It is vital that the Texas Senate understand the economic and athletic impact of the University of Texas leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference,” said Patrick.

The Senate select committee will meet Monday.

“Where this goes, I don’t know, the uncertainty is what is unnerving,” said Birdwell. “It’s the not knowing that drives you crazy.”

Birdwell says just how devastating it would be to the Waco area if UT does end up leaving the conference depends on Baylor’s actions regarding future re-conferencing.

He offered a glimmer of hope, saying it could always open up unforeseen opportunities.

“Is there a sunny day coming that we didn’t anticipate? But that certainly belongs more to the leadership at Baylor and the overall Big 12 than what the state legislature can do to make it a sunny day,” said Birdwell. “It’s certainly possible, from a scriptural perspective, that while we see the darkness now, there may be better opportunities that we weren’t available to.”

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