The fifth member to be added in the original group of Big East invitees is Southern Methodist University. The speculation surrounding the Big East’s interest in the Mustangs is that the conference brass wanted a replacement for Texas Christian University after they switched their loyalties to the Big 12 this past season. While being a powerhouse football program in a non-AQ conference, the Horned Frogs were sent a Big East invitation mostly because it was believed they could capture the Dallas-Ft. Worth TV market. Well that’s not entirely true. In fact Dallas and Ft. Worth are about as separated as Cincinnati and Columbus. As a result, TCU owns Ft. Worth and SMU owns the larger, more prestigious Dallas market. Or as much as the Texas Longhorns lets them own those markets, anyways.
Regardless it seems the 1-for-1 switcheroo worked out well for the Big East from a media contract standpoint. On the field the Mustangs have taken a backseat to their crosstown rivals in recent years and the Big East will definitely be getting less out of SMU than the Horned Frogs when they arrive for the 2013 season. But the Mustangs have a strong football history even thought it is one shaded in controversy. I’ll get into more details of this and their athletics in a bit but for now let me start with a look at the school itself.
Southern Methodist University is a small, private school of just 7,000 undergraduate students. The Big East’s basketball-only schools surely loved that. In spite of having such a small student body, SMU has so many connections around the United States that they give Notre Dame a run for their money. The powerful and wealthy alumni base includes billionaire Gerald J. Ford who donated a large sum of money to build a new Mustangs football stadium (it was later named after him), John Tyson of Tyson Foods that makes really delicious chicken nuggets, a whole slew of politicians, actors, actresses, as well as a number of CEO’s and vice presidents who work in Dallas-area companies. This last one is key as the university can look to this local donor-base as an extension of their revenue stream. As a UC fan it makes me sick.
With the kind of cash standing at the ready for a winner in a major conference (yes, the Big East is still a big boy in college football), Mustangs athletics is poised to shoot off like a rocket. They are a sleeping giant, if you will. But SMU will have to be cautious as not to grow too fast. Not like last time, anyways. Most of what I’m about to say is depicted in the ESPN 30-for-30 film Pony Excess. If you haven’t seen it (you really should), I don’t want to ruin it for you but in essence, the cheating in Mustangs athletics in the 1980′s made the SEC look like a bunch of schoolboys. Football is everything in Texas; right up there with religion, barbeque, and big hats. The higher-ups in the SMU Athletic Department understood this and realized that getting the best recruits in the shadow of the University of Texas, among others, wouldn’t be easy. At the time the Mustangs and Longhorns were members of the Southwest Conference so overtaking them for a conference championship wasn’t easy.
Long-story short, wealthy donors coupled with SMU AD personnel to ‘influence’ the nation’s best recruits to sign with the Mustangs. This resulted in major success on the football field including national titles in ’81 and ’82 but the cheating got out of hand when one disgruntled player spilled the beans on the whole situation. The NCAA subsequently hit SMU with the ‘Death Penalty’, banning the football for essentially one and a half seasons, and crippling the football program. It is only now getting back on its feet. Cincinnati fans can empathize what Mustang fans have gone through for the past twenty-odd years.
Recently though the SMU Athletic Department has regained an interest in Mustangs football. They hired spread-guru June Jones from Hawaii and went to three bowls in four years under his reign. Membership in an AQ conference will probably continue that success especially with Jones sticking with SMU for the immediate future at least. It will also help with recruiting and while SMU will definitely not be allowed to get away with paying players ever again, they can definitely use the Big East membership as a tool to land better prospects in Texas. Overall, the future is bright for SMU football.
The basketball program.. well.. has some work to do. DePaul will be happy to know that of 4 new basketball teams joining the Big East, SMU will be most likely to overtake the Blue Demons as the bottomfeeder of the Big East. This past season they only had a 4 – 12 Conference-USA record and at one point the Mustangs scored 28 count ‘em TWENTY-EIGHT points in a game against the UAB Blazers. SMU has a pretty solid basketball history but the hiring of Matt Doherty is one of the biggest head-scratcher in college sports. He’s famous for taking over the UNC Tar Heels in 2000, tying for an ACC title in his first season, then subsequently running the program into the ground. Anyone who does that to such a storied program doesn’t deserve a head coaching job anywhere. Now at SMU, Doherty has compiled a lackluster 42% winning percentage with just 29 Conference-USA wins in six years. How this guy has not been fired yet is beyond me.
3.13.2012 Update: Sounds like Doherty has been fired as of this morning. Craig James is supposedly a leading candidate to fill the vacancy (haha, but not really).
The Cincinnati-SMU Connection
Well, there isn’t much of one. The Bearcats and Mustangs have never met on the gridiron and, at least since 1980, have never played a game of basketball with each other. While both teams have a history in Conference-USA they were members at different times. Like Central Florida, SMU was invited to C-USA as a result of Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, DePaul, and South Florida leaving for the Big East in the mid-2000′s. The only game I could find between UC and SMU was a soccer match on September 1, 2006. The Mustangs, a very good soccer program, shelled the Bearcats with 6 goals and went on to win 6 – nil. And that’s about it.
But that doesn’t mean Cincinnati and SMU can’t start up a hatred for each other. That’s on you, Bearcat fans.
Anyways in my mind SMU will be a valued member to the Big East conference.
In case you missed the other posts in this series, I’ve got you covered: