With the departure of Texas A&M from the Big 12 conference now almost a sure thing one school, Southern Methodist University (SMU), has already started to make noise publicly about joining the conference when the Big 12 expands.
SMU's athletic director & president have made it known that they feel the university is ready to jump up from Conference USA into a BCS conference. This desire by the Mustangs to elevate a level, so to speak, is done specifically with football in mind.
At one time, SMU was a national player in college football before rampant cheating finally brought down the hammer from the NCAA with the infamous death penalty placed upon their football program.
Their football program is back on the rise due to astute hiring of June Jones in 2008 from Hawaii. In only three seasons in charge, Jones has led the Mustangs to consecutive bowl games and a spot in the Conference USA championship game in 2010.
Jones has also spiked an uptick in the level of recruiting being done at SMU as a quick look at their 2011 recruiting class shows 27 commitments. Of these commitments 20 of them are listed as three star recruits while also having 1 four star recruit. This is obviously not equivalent to the level of talent you would see if flipping over to the Texas Longhorns commitment page but it is solid especially for a Conference USA team.
For comparison in 2011, per Rivals, Iowa State's football program secured 24 commitments with 15 of the 24 being three star recruits. The 9 other players listed were all two stars.
And while not much analysis can be gleamed from looking at early commitments for 2012 it is interesting that SMU has 14 players currently listed by Rivals as early commits while Kansas & Kansas State both only list 7 each.
So while it appears SMU's football program might be on their way upwards and warrants a solid look by the Big 12 how does their basketball program stack up.
The Mustangs basketball team finished the 2010-2011 season a respectable 20-15, losing in the CIT Tournament's semifinal to Santa Clara. This season mark included an 8-8 record in conference play which resulted in a tie for seventh place in the conference with East Carolina University.
The Mustangs are led by former North Carolina head coach Matt Doherty who will be entering his sixth season at the helm of the SMU basketball program. While Doherty has helped out in many different ways for the program last year was his first winning season in Dallas. Even with the success of last year, Doherty's win loss record at SMU is 67-90 overall with a conference record of 25-55.
Not all of the steps forward by the SMU program under Doherty's tenure can be seen simply through the records. In 2008, the school unveiled it's indoor basketball practice facility, Crum Basketball Center, which cost a reported $13 million dollars. The facility consists of 43,000 square feet that houses separate full court practice courts for both the mens and womens teams in addition to state of the art locker rooms, training rooms, coaches offices, film editing rooms and for good measure on-site laundry facilities.
The school's basketball arena, Moody Coliseum, currently only holds 9,000 but SMU earlier this year announced extensive renovation plans due to a large $20 million donation the school received. Some of the changes that will take place are the addition of new premium seating as well as major technology improvements to the video boards, sound systems & even the heating and cooling systems within the arena.
These improvements to the basketball program in addition to the proposed increase of seating at the football stadium definitely make SMU more attractive now to the Big 12 than they looked even 3 to 4 years ago.
So how will the SMU basketball program look in this upcoming year? The team lost its best player from last year in Papa Dia, a forward who led the team in minutes played and points scored at 18.3 per game. The Mustangs only had one other player who averaged in double figures last season in points per game, Robert Nyakundi, and luckily for Matt Doherty he will back this year.
A quick scan of the Mustangs roster shows a team that Doherty and his staff might take a short term hit on this year in hopes of better things to come down the road. The current roster makeup shows 5 true freshman and 2 redshirt freshman. One of the few upperclassman on the roster includes former Kansas State guard Nick Russell who transferred into SMU after two up and down years in Manhattan. He will sit this year out as a redshirt before having two years of eligibility left beginning in the 2012-2013 season. So the possibility remains for Russell he will once again be in the Big 12 conference and that the statement, "the more things change the more they stay the same," is quite relevant for him.
So while the first thought by most people is probably one of disbelief upon hearing about SMU being a possible addition to the Big 12, both their major programs appear to be on the rise. The school appears committed to providing the support in facilities needed to stay competitive in a BCS conference.
So the question remains will SMU be added to the Big 12? While it still remains doubtful they would be included you never know for sure especially with Texas politics in play. How else was Baylor added into the conference when it initially formed?
One additional interesting tidbit to be added to this story is that SMU travels to play Texas A&M on September 4 this year to open each schools football seasons. Kind of ironic how some things seem to work out.