Regional vendettas lurked beneath the first meeting of the newborn Select Committee on the Future of College Sports in Texas, formed in the Texas Senate by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick to study the economic impact of UT’s departure from the Big 12. Lubbock lawmakers called for reform to the Permanent University Fund (PUF), a sizable endowment funded by West Texas land resources and reserved exclusively for UT and Texas A&M. At times, lawmakers with ties to remaining Big 12 schools boosted their efforts.
Committee chair Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), whose district includes none of the involved universities, strongly steered conversation away from the PUF at the outset and throughout the meeting when Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) alluded to it.
“We’re not going to do that today,” Nelson emphasized when Whitmire asked the committee to “not allow what happens on the football field to affect our state budget.”
Despite Nelson’s direction, the PUF remained an elephant in the room, especially for Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), whose latent remarks on achieving an “equitable” budget eventually materialized into overt critique of the PUF.
In his opening statement, Perry avoided concrete budget points but noted that UT’s departure will have a negative fiscal impact on the three Texas schools left in the Big 12 whose smaller programs benefited from the revenue that UT has brought to the conference.
“As a legislature, we need to make sure that when these processes go down that they’re not done in the dark of night with no consideration for other affected parties,” Perry said.
“The West Texas region funds, arguably, the top two, three, parts of the state budget.”
Later, Perry swore to file a bill to reform the PUF.
“We are being held out of conferences because we don’t have research money,” Perry said.
“You will see legislation filed before this session is over… A lot of the schools that are affected by this and other issues should be getting those research dollars, no different than UT and A&M.”
The issue of research money arose while Burrows was questioning Dallas economist Bernard Weinstein, an invited testifier. Burrows noted that certain major conferences require or prefer member schools to be a part of the American Association of Universities (AAU), an invitation-only group of universities that commit to a certain threshold of research funding.
“There is this connection between the amount of money that goes into especially our state institutions from the state whether or not they have enough research dollars to go into the AAU, which translates into their opportunities to get into conferences,” Burrows said.
Motivated by the potential damage to Texas Tech University as well as the fact that West Texas resources fund a considerable portion of UT’s budget, Burrows has been an outspoken critic of UT’s departure from the Big 12 since the news broke.
Though Perry and Burrows castigated the PUF most loudly, other committee members found it difficult to avoid the topic as well.
Whitmire advised members against making budget choices based on UT’s athletic choices but still joined Perry in calling for more equitable distribution of the PUF.
“I didn’t want, in my judgment after conversations with you, to talk about the future of the PUF in today’s hearings. I would encourage us to have discussions about the equality, the equity of the PUF, in its own separate hearing,” Whitmire told Nelson.
“I just don’t think you need to look at the football considerations as it would impact the PUF or vice versa. But for years and years as someone representing an area that does not benefit from the PUF, it’s long overdue, and I don’t think we have to do it at the detriment of our two flag school universities.”
Sen. Lois Kolkorst (R-Brenham), a Texas Christian University graduate and avid fan, also prodded Perry about the PUF’s current value.
As of June, the PUF’s net asset value is over $30 billion — one of the largest public university endowments in the country.
While the dire budget forecasts of individual colleges incited plenty of argument at the meeting, the economist Weinstein predicted smooth sailing for the state as a whole.
“I don’t believe losing UT to the SEC spells doom and gloom for collegiate sports in Texas outside of Austin and College Station,” Weinstein said. “UT isn’t moving its football program to another state.”
“Just think how much fun we’ll have when the Crimson tide rolls in. We’ll just have to put the National Guard on standby.”
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