Perry, the leading Republican candidate for president and a former yell leader for the Texas A&M Aggies, enjoys a lot of sway over the Big 12's fate. As the governor of Texas, he can pressure the Texas schools to stay, or to work out the differences that caused the Big 12's initial rift. Oil man T. Boone Pickens, a Dallas resident and Oklahoma State booster, recently called on Perry to save the conference.
But Perry isn't going to do it.
"The governor believes those decisions are best left up to the universities and has consistently stayed out of any conference realignment, because he believes the university leadership should be making those decisions," said Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Perry.
Ah, the non-interventionist hand of a Republican running for president. The Market wins again. At least Perry has stuck to his principles.
But the thing is: It would be easy for Perry to step in, at least according to one of the few people qualified to judge.
Former Texas governor Mark White, a Democrat who served from 1983 to 1987, recalls nipping in the bud a similar initiative by Texas and Texas A&M to leave the Southwest Conference early in his tenure.
"I had some strong UT [University of Texas] supporters make an announcement to me that UT was going to leave the Southwest Conference, and probably A&M was going to leave as well," White told me over the phone this week. "I just said, 'Well, please have those two [university] presidents give me a call, and ask how many of their appropriations they're prepared to leave behind ... they never did call me, and I guess they just decided they weren't interested in leaving the Southwest Conference."
The Southwest Conference had existed for 70 years at that point, and White didn't want to see it fold. Big games between the conference's Texas schools -- Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, Rice, and Houston -- were good for the state, economically. The same holds true today. Ray Perryman, an economist with degrees from Baylor and Rice, recently claimed that if the Big 12 dissolves, the state of Texas would lost $1.16 billion in aggregate spending, $589.5 million in GDP, $365.2 million in personal income, and 8,329 jobs. Given that Baylor fans want to see the Big 12 stay together, take his numbers with a mild grain of salt.
Handle White's criticism of Perry with similar care. He's not only a Democrat who opposes Perry's White House ambitions, he's also a Baylor graduate. Nevertheless, White said it would be very easy for Perry to save the Big 12.
"Can the governor do something about it? Of course," White said. "A phone call from the governor, it wouldn't even be a long phone call, would straighten this in a minute. Can you imagine the governor of Alabama sitting there and watching Auburn and Alabama go different ways?"
Perry appointed every board-of-regents member at Texas and Texas A&M, so it's hard to imagine he doesn't have leverage over the schools' decisions. If the schools called a bluff to deprive them of funding, I wondered if the legislature, made up of graduates from a slew of Texas schools, would be able to follow through on a threat. White said it could. "It'd be a real mess for [the schools]. They'd be dazzled by what a mess they had. Let me say, it wouldn't be a pretty sight. The governor of Texas is a powerful office."