SMU announced plans yesterday to build an indoor-outdoor facility for its football program with the hopes of bringing prestige back to the program and cement — at least in the eyes of outsiders — the University’s commitment to excellence.
With the recent news of SMU’s desire for entry into the Big 12’s possible expansion, the ground-breaking is widely seen as a huge step toward building momentum for an invite.
A Big 12 invite would boost SMU’s yearly revenue as well as their recruiting ability. If SMU is to prove their worth in becoming what would essentially make them the Big 12’s version of the SEC’s Vanderbilt–an academically and financially sound, non-football member–they’ll have to first prove that they can handle success in the American Athletic Conference. If unable to do so, the Mustangs will continue to languish as the Vanderbilt of the AAC instead of the Big 12.
If the adage about “dressing for the job you want” fits collegiate conference alignment, then SMU has been showing up inappropriately underdressed for the last few decades.
The Mustangs haven’t been a contender since SMU admin and alum ran afoul of the NCAA rules on amateur athletics in the late 80’s. The team has finished with a conference record over .500 only six times in the nearly three decades since receiving the NCAA’s Death Penalty with four of those instances coming during June Jones tenure from 2009-12. Since Jones’ last full year in University Park, the Mustangs have won a grand total of two AAC games.
1-7 would be a great first year in the Big 12 for the Mustangs. Unfortunately, the program needs to show Big 12 conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby that there is more than SMU money. Which is nothing to sneeze at. SMU is the AAC’s leading endowment holder at over $1.4 billion. That endowment figure would easily rank as one of the Big 12’s highest holders not named Texas. But money alone won’t get it done.
That’s why the Big 12 isn’t considering adding the mighty coffer pots from either Harvard or Yale whose storied football programs are currently best described as “ornamental”. That, and a boost to conference-wide academics, is why Vanderbilt is so valuable to the SEC; because Vanderbilt isn’t simply a huge boon to academics and purchasing power, they’re also decent between the sidelines relative to the rest of FBS football. And that’s not to mention they add a major metropolitan city in Nashville to the conference.
So far, however, SMU has not shown that it can even put a reasonable laughter on the field. Performing as a bottom-feeder in a mid-major conference doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
SMU may neither have the time, nor the ability, to show it can compete at the level Vanderbilt does within their own power conference. Regardless of whatever interest may be out there for SMU from conference-to-conference, if the Mustangs wish to enhance their program’s future they’ll need to invest resources where it matters most: on the field of play and in the win column.