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SMU goes public with interest in Big 12

SMU athletic director Steve Orsini believes his school is ready to join an automatic-qualifier BCS conference and has made his case to certain Big 12 officials.

“We feel it’s time. We’re ready,” Orsini said Thursday, shortly after Texas A&M announced it has informed the Big 12 that it’s looking at other conference options. “The college landscape is shifting. We’re already a top academic institution and with the re-commitment of the university already in place, we can be a top athletics program nationally.”

SMU president R. Gerald Turner said late Thursday afternoon that he believes the Mustangs, which currently compete in Conference USA, are ready to join any AQ conference interested in getting into the Dallas-Fort Worth market.

But is SMU a good fit? Well the alumni seem to think so.

SMU formed the “Circle of Champions,” a group of 20 major donors willing to commit $100,000 each for five years to help attract Jones and his staff. Jones has led a resurgence of the program, taking the Mustangs to two consecutive bowl games and finishing runner-up in Conference USA last year, falling to Central Florida in the title game.

Orsini said that SMU is happy in Conference USA and would be pleased if that league somehow could gain automatic qualifying status. But he stressed that the school also would prefer to rekindle its regional rivalries, and believes the best way to do that is to play in a conference with more nearby teams, such as the Big 12.

“We want the best regional conference we can get in this part of the country,” Orsini said. “Strength is in expansion, not minimalism, like having 10 members in the Big 12, when four of the BCS conferences have 12 members. Let’s add to it.”

Orsini knows the biggest argument against SMU is that adding it won’t help the conference’s television footprint with such a large alumni base in the Metroplex already. But he believes SMU would increase the interest in the Dallas area, noting that Austin, Lubbock, Fort Worth, Waco and other cities have automatic-qualifying schools.

“Why not Dallas?” Orsini said. “We would solidify the presence of whatever conference we’re in for an AQ status in the fifth-largest market in the country. This is a very important market.”

When a study of the TV ratings in the Dallas-Fort Worth market the past two football seasons and discovered the average ratings for Big 12 and SEC games were at best a draw, despite the SEC having no team in Texas, much less the Metroplex. So perhaps Orsini is on to something. But could SMU really help put more eyes on the Big 12 in this area?

Personally, I think The Big should strike the state of Florida while it’s hot. UCF gives the Big 12 a chance to turn the corner. It is the second largest university in the nation and has a top #20 nationally ranked football program,new, state of the art facilities,waiting to be snatched up.

But with the Big 12 possibly facing its third team loss in 14 months, they might be willing to extend invitations to more than one school.