Exclusive: Inside the Plans for a Texas Athletic Conference

Share or Save for Later

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Save to Favorites

West Texas A&M President Dr. Walter Wendler wasn’t the first person to envision a conference consisting of only in-state institutions. Still, he is the first university president in Texas to write about the possibility. While the major collegiate universities are forming conferences that span the country, many across the Non-FBS landscape long for a return to conferences focusing on regionalization. 

In 2021, Oklahoma state representative Mark Vancuren from Owasso proposed a radical change. He explored the idea of a conference consisting of all 11 NCAA Division II institutions in Oklahoma, which are currently spread across three conferences: the Lone Star Conference (LSC), the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Conference (MIAA), and the Great American Conference (GAC). Vancuren believed combining these schools into one conference would cut travel time, lower costs for games, and reinvigorate in-state rivalries.

Wendler sparked discussion of an all-Texas conference after teaming up with then-WT’s Director of Athletics Michael McBroom to write a six-part series on intercollegiate athletics in the Spring of 2022. 

The fifth part of the series, “A Fresh Form of Intercollegiate Athletics,” delved into the potential benefits of an all-Texas conference. It highlighted how such a conference could be more proactive in adapting to changes in college athletics, positively influence Texas communities, better cater to the needs of its members compared to a multi-state conference, and significantly reduce travel costs for institutions, families, and fans. The piece also suggested eliminating competitions on Sundays.

The sixth and final part of the series is where Wendler tabbed this would-be conference the “Texas Athletic Conference (TAC).” He imagined a TAC football championship game held at the Alamodome and a “Governor’s Cup” awarded annually to the best athletic department in Texas.

Wendler and McBroom's ideas initially made waves in Texas and the college football world. However, the conversation was primarily silent over the last two years. It was only when recent events, such as the uncertain future of Texas teams in the Western Athletic Conference following the departures of Grand Canyon, Seattle University, and UTRGV and the return of Stephen F. Austin to the Southland Conference, reignited the discussion.

Two weeks ago, Abilene Christian President Dr. Phil Schubert sat with KTAB Sports Director David Robinett to discuss “Navigating the ever-changing college sports landscape and ACU’s future in the WAC.” Toward the end of the interview, Robinett broached the idea of creating a TAC. Schubert noted plenty of other schools are in the conversation due to the current conference realignment.

“If you’re asking me, would I love to see an all-Texas conference at some point? You better believe I would, and if I ever get the chance to bring something like that about or have (an) influence on bringing Texas schools together under one brand to play Texas sports together, especially football, man, we would jump at that chance,” Schubert said in the interview. “If there is a state in the country that could (have its own conference), it’s Texas. Maybe there’ll be an opportunity with all the movement taking place for that to emerge as something we could pursue. We would certainly be interested in that.”

Dr. Wendler’s vision for a TAC would include “Some combination of FCS and Division II schools in Texas could be considered for membership. There would be symmetry in this Texas collection of colleges, as all schools in the conference would play football.”

One area where almost everyone agrees, including Wendler and Schubert, is that Texas is the only state in the country with the resources and ability to make a Texas Athletic Conference a reality. But how would a TAC look, and could it eventually become a reality?

— — — 

Multiple sources indicate that some university presidents in Texas have explored the possibility of a Texas Athletic Conference over the last few months and have recently held at least one meeting. Dave Campbell’s Texas Football obtained a slide deck that broke down the teams, savings for each school in travel time and mileage compared to their current conference, number of sponsored sports, and locations for possible tournaments and showcase events.

The proposed Texas Athletic Conference would consist of 11 universities, including ACU, Tarleton, and UT Arlington from the WAC and United Athletic Conference. The proposal adds Texas A&M-Commerce, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Houston Christian, UIW, Lamar, Stephen F. Austin, and UTRGV from the Southland. The final member is West Texas A&M, who would need to transition from NCAA Division II and the Lone Star Conference to Division I and FCS. Below is a map of the geographic footprint of the proposed TAC.

The TAC would have nine teams that currently sponsor football (minus TAMUCC and UTA), 11 teams for men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s track and field, and volleyball, and 10 teams in this format would sponsor baseball (minus TAMUC), softball (minus UTRGV), and women's soccer (minus UTA).

It is important to note the slides were made before SFA was confirmed to return to the SLC. Hence, the Lumberjacks would save the most travel time and mileage compared to their travel in the WAC and UAC, with 9 hours and 17 minutes less travel for conference action. UTA would save 7 hours and 35 minutes and 636 miles, Tarleton would save 7 hours and 2 minutes (492 miles), and ACU would save 5 hours and 19 minutes (520 miles). TAMUC would save the most time and distance compared to its travel in the SLC, with one hour and 22 minutes and 88 miles saved.

Under this proposal, only some teams would save on travel and mileage. Lamar would add one hour and 27 minutes (94 miles), and UIW would add one hour and 13 minutes but save 84 miles. WT would have the furthest distance to travel in the TAC at 502 miles, followed by UTRGV (429), Tarleton (359), TAMUCC (346), Lamar (328), TAMUC (303), ACU (302), SFA (288), HCU (280.5), UIW (270), and UTA (264).

The slide deck indicated three sites that could showcase football: The Star in Frisco, Choctaw Stadium in Arlington, and the Alamodome in San Antonio. Potential basketball tournament sites are the Moody Center in Austin, the HEB Center in Cedar Park, the Berry Center in Cypress, the Merrell Center in Katy, Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg, American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, the Culwell Center in Garland, and College Park Center in Arlington.

— — — 

Despite the presence of slides and a push by a few presidents to have conversations around a Texas Athletic Conference, multiple sources indicate the Southland Conference schools have no desire to leave a suddenly stable SLC. Other sources said the SLC is happy with its current status of 12 full-time members but is interested in expanding to 14 members in the next few years. 

Interview requests sent to Dr. Wendler and McBroom to further discuss a possible TAC were denied, and a request to interview Dr. Schubert for this piece has yet to receive a response.

While multiple FCS conferences continue to court West Texas A&M, sources estimated a move to Division I would require an additional $15 to $25 million per year beyond its current budget. Another roadblock to a potential TAC is the price of exit fees for all 11 members, which would require millions of dollars during a time when many institutions are cutting costs and budgets to counter the effects of inflation. Meanwhile, the Buffs are searching for a new athletic director after McBroom departed to serve as Director of Athletics at SFA.

While the idea of a Texas Athletic Conference is enticing, every source contacted for this piece was skeptical it would ever come to fruition and argued the costs associated with creating a new conference and paying exit fees would consume savings from less travel. But one can dream, right?

This article is available to our Digital Subscribers.
Click "Subscribe Now" to see a list of subscription offers.
Already a Subscriber? Sign In to access this content.

Sign In