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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 — Houston, TX

Rice needs to move to more prestigious conference

By Staff Editorial     9/7/11 7:00pm

Currently, the NCAA football conference landscape is in upheaval. Universities such as Colorado and Utah have already shifted conferences and Texas A&M is in the process of moving to the SEC. Rice should actively pursue a similar motion.

Rice seeks excellence in most everything it does. Rice provides the best for its students and seeks to constantly improve in every way possible. Ideally, this philosophy would fully extend to the Rice Owls athletics department, but in placing academics as priority, it becomes difficult for the university to give athletics all the resources it needs to flourish. However, by moving to a more prestigious conference, Rice could increase athletic monetary resources, recruit better athletes, and have Rice athletics increase the university's visibility.

Rice could reap these benefits by moving to a more prominent conference. This decision would, of course, not be an easy one, and it would likely be met by internal friction. Currently, the Rice community is less than enamored with many of its athletics teams because of lackluster performances across numerous sports. Because of this, a pervasive sentiment is to have Rice drop down to Division II. However, according to a 2004 review of intercollegiate athletics at Rice University, dropping to a lower division is categorized as a relatively undesirable option for the future of Rice athletics. This motion could "damage the University's reputation," force us to compete with schools "antithetical to Rice" that are "weaker, less academically able, and financially unstable," and "many of the selectivity and financial concerns surrounding the trade-offs necessary to maintain Rice athletics would remain" even if we dropped to a lower division. Thus, despite the logic behind dropping our athletic program down, an objective survey of options shows that the move could be deleterious to us in the long run.

On the other hand, a move to a major conference such as the Big 12 or PAC 12 would come with an array of benefits and very few drawbacks. These major conferences receive a lot of attention accompanied with greater attendance numbers and lucrative TV deals. Essentially, by joining a major conference, Rice would be able to take home a piece of a much bigger pie through conference revenue sharing. An increased income could make a world of difference to Rice athletics. Currently, athletics are supported by a university budget. However, if it could begin pulling its own revenue, it would have considerably more autonomy and resource to make the decisions to improve its programs. The improved income would likely lead to better athletic facilities. These improved facilities, the prestige of a major conference and the increased expenditure on athletics would appeal to recruits greatly. Texas gives rise to many of the country's greatest athletes; however, Rice is rarely viewed as a legitamite choice for stellar athletes. The athletes that Rice recruits often choose universities such as Duke and Stanford which have comparable acadameics and much more nationally recognized athletic departments. If Rice were to make this change to move to a more reputable conference, their chances of recruiting better athletes and fielding more competitive teams would increase dramatically.

As Rice sports performance steadily improves in this larger conference, Rice's visibility would increase dramatically. The university would participate in more high-profile games and be seen on national television much more frequently. Rice would receive increased national attention and this would directly correlate to more students wishing to attend Rice. The university would likely experience more undergraduate applications and a higher accepted student yield. Many of our peer universities have athletic programs that are nationally recognizable because of their athletic conference affiliations. It's time that Rice also capitalizes on a dual dynamic of reputable academics and exciting athletics. As the university grows and improves itself through its Vision for the 21st Century, we need to take the initiative to progress our athletic department in a proportional manner. As we strive for the perfect university, we need to pursue a community in which athletics and academics thrive off each other; however, if we truly want to see this bold vision in the future we are going to need audacious action in the present.

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