Texas Farewell Tour: Longhorns sacrificing 300-plus games of rivalry for SEC move

Courtesy of Texas athletics

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To spot the further erosion of tradition and rivalry in college athletics, look no further than Waco when the Texas Longhorns play the Baylor Bears for the 113th, and maybe final, time.

Texas’ move to the SEC in 2024 will cost the state of Texas a combined 280 games of rivalries between the Longhorns and in-state foes Baylor, TCU, and Texas Tech. Add Houston and the Longhorns are leaving over 300 intrastate rivalry games on the table for greener pastures of the SEC. 

The only rivalries between Texas schools played more often than Texas vs. Baylor are TCU vs. Baylor and Texas vs. Texas A&M. The silver lining for Texas’ move to the SEC is the revival of the game against Texas A&M, though one could easily argue that the game never had to disappear just because the Aggies went to the SEC. Florida and Florida State play yearly, after all. 

Most played rivalries between Texas schools (as of Sept. 19, 2023)

TCU vs. Baylor            118
Texas vs. Texas A&M  118
Texas vs. Baylor          112
Texas A&M vs. Baylor 108
TCU vs. SMU               101

No one with a sane, unbiased brain blames Texas for taking the money and the prestige that comes with a seat at the SEC table. Maybe we can blame the NCAA for allowing the sport to eat itself from the inside, but Texas did what Texas should do – trade Kansas State for LSU and Iowa State for Alabama. Duh. 

But that doesn’t have to come at the expense of the fans inside the state. Thanksgiving was made worse when the egos at Texas and Texas A&M prevented us fans from watching that rivalry game each year. Losing Texas vs. Tech or Texas vs. Baylor isn’t on that same scale nationally, but games between Texas and the other power programs in the Lone Star State still matter.

At least they should. If regional rivalries don’t matter, college football is a fundamentally different sport than the one I grew up loving. Do we truly not miss the “Battle of the Brazos”? And if not, who hurt you? 

In his Monday press conference, Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said that the amount of regional rivalries Texas has makes it tough to schedule one in fear of making the others mad. Implying that if Texas signs Baylor to a two-year home-and-home, that would infuriate Texas Tech fans or vice-a-versa. But, again, that is a limited view of the future. Texas could easily sign up long-time in-state rivals to rotating two-year contracts. Play Baylor in 2030 and 2031. Texas Tech the two years after that. TCU the two after that, and then start over. 

The reasons this won't happen have nothing to do with the feelings of other teams. Texas won't schedule those teams for a simple reason - recruiting. The powers to be at Texas feel like it is a lose-lose to play Baylor or Tech or TCU. And if only viewed from their perspective, that's probably true. When Texas beats one of those teams, it was supposed to. When one of those teams upsets Texas, it becomes recruiting ammunition. The Longhorns don't want to create any unnecessary road blocks. 

The Longhorns first played Baylor in 1901. They first met TCU in 1899. Texas Tech joined the party late, kicking off its rivalry with Texas in 1928. Texas holds a clear advantage in each of these series, but not of late. TCU is 8-3 versus Texas since joining the Big 12 in 2012. Baylor is 6-7 against the Longhorns since 2010. Texas Tech has won three times since 2015. 

The Longhorns will get the best version of each of their in-state Big 12 opponents in 2023. That starts Saturday in Waco against a wounded Baylor Bears team. Dave Aranda’s squad is 1-2 with losses at home already to Texas State and Utah, but he knows his students, donors, and fan base would forget those sins with a victory against their burnt orange rival. Baylor announced a sell-out for the Saturday game and reported more student tickets sold than ever before. 

“I can’t tell you how many times this offseason I heard ‘Dave, just win this one game,’” Aranda said ahead of the Week 4 clash. “That has been brought up to me multiple times.” 

Sarkisian knows the bullseye rests firmly on his team’s back – just below the nameplates. The Longhorns are usually the biggest game of the season for Big 12 opponents, but that is doubly true during their last voyage through the conference. Just ask the commissioner. 

The Longhorns are leaning into it with an “embrace the hate” motto that, frankly, suits Texas yearly. Maybe it is what the program was missing after Mack Brown left the 40 Acres – a chip. If sports documentaries teach us anything, it is that haters – real or imagined – become fuel. 

“We understand the environment we’re walking into (Saturday) and we can’t be fearful of that,” Sarkisian said in his weekly press conference on Monday. “We have to embrace it. We have to walk in there and be ourselves, play our brand of football.” 

Texas plays three – Baylor, TCU, and Houston – of those four in-state Big 12 opponents on the road. The only home game is the final regular season contest as Big 12 members against Texas Tech the day after Thanksgiving. Texas, the current favorite to win the Big 12, hopes a game in Arlington for the conference crown occurs the week after. 

Texas isn’t to blame here. Losing these rivalries to history is simply another symptom of the disease. We’re losing the Iron Skillet rivalry between TCU and SMU (101 matchups) after 2025. We lost “The Battle of the Piney Woods” (96 matchups) after 2022 when Sam Houston moved to FBS and left SFA behind. Three of the five-most played rivalries between Texas teams won't exist after 2025. The only ones that'll remain are TCU vs. Baylor and the renewed rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M. 

And it isn’t just the Lone Star State. The Pac-12 – currently the best conference in college football, by the way – won’t exist at this time next year. Neither will Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State (117 matchups) or Oregon vs. Oregon State (126 matchups). 

College football is fine. We’ll all tune in more than ever – even bitter fans like me – and we’ll cheer as loud as we did in 1990 or 1960 or 1935. These same complaints were levied by my granddad when the Southwest Conference broke up. Maybe his granddad was pissed when the Border Conference dissolved. The sport grew then, and it’ll continue to grow now. But what we’re losing for that growth is what used to make this sport so special – history and tradition. 

Bah humbug. 

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