By Dr. Walter Wendler
Fifth in a series on intercollegiate athletics.
Texas has 53 colleges and universities competing in three divisions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). These institutions belong to 11 different conferences made up of many out-of-state members from coast to coast and one international member. While such expanded membership may be necessary and appropriate at the FBS Division I level (the “big ones”), different thought processes may apply to the organization of the FCS, Division II and Division III athletic programs (the rest) in Texas. A strong Texas Athletic Association could provide positive leadership rather than reactive responses in intercollegiate athletics while resulting in greater economic impact for host communities and states.
A comprehensive statewide organization of intercollegiate athletics in a reasonable and thoughtful association could attract bright and talented student-athletes from across the country and around the world while retaining the best in Texas. Playing in Texas is a privilege and an honor. This is ultimately positive for institutions, host communities and Texas. Statewide organization positions Texans as thought leaders who envision holistic integration of student and institutional aspirations. This will aggregate benefits to Texas and its people across its highly diverse institutional identities and communities while appreciating the needs, aspirations, and abilities of students. The pride and competitive spirit of Texas is a unique and imposing advantage.
University presidents and state athletic directors are used to working together. As members of a single organization with a unified mission to place Texas on the highest standards, it could meet the needs of its members without the constraints that conferences that span multiple states often must alleviate. We believe that the transfer portal harms collegiate athletics and the academic progress of student-athletes. Responsive, locally-driven sports organizations — a Texas conference — could resist national trends like the transfer portal and instead use a collaborative, common-sense approach to finding solutions that work best for Texas and Texans. Calling on top athletes from all divisions to stay in Texas could benefit individuals, institutions and the state.
A Texas-based sports conference could help reduce travel costs for institutions, families and communities that support teams and will likely increase fan and family support for “away” games. In addition, in the interest of the academic progress of student-athletes, the reduction in travel time could allow the elimination of competitions scheduled on Sundays. This provides student-athletes with the opportunity to complete their academic work, rest, recharge, and recover. Properly managed, it should increase the importance of academics to intercollegiate athletes.
The creation of a statewide conference could allow the majority of Texas universities and colleges to master the bar that guides Texas and Texans to enjoy true intercollegiate athletics that provides local attraction and competitiveness. . A service to Texans first. Additionally, sports alliances can lead to academic partnerships and include all universities of all types and backgrounds, regional public campuses, private institutions, historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic, faith-based, and secular institutions. The alliances will lead to an advantage for all institutions and Texas.
These thoughts provide a thoughtful approach to creating a more competitive and less costly intercollegiate athletics environment in Texas. It promotes the economic development of our state, increases pride in the state, and a sensibly managed relationship between academics and student-athletes in athletics and the institutions that serve them.
Emmer is right. We need to rethink our mission and purpose. It has to start closer to home, closer to the heart of Texas, in the heart of Texas.
Walter V. Wendler is president of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/. Michael McBroom is director of varsity athletics at West Texas A&M University