Meet the Bears ra11

Running back Shock Linwood, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett and the Baylor football team kick off the season Sept. 4 at SMU.

Staff photo— Rod Aydelotte

I come in peace, Big 12 family.

I hail from SEC real estate. Raised in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, I’m a University of Georgia graduate and an avid follower of Bulldogs football.

Here’s what I’m not: Some “SEC fan” that adorns himself in bowties and blazers on Saturdays and takes credit for other SEC teams’ success by pretentiously chanting those three letters over and over in wins against non-conference foes.

Conference pride is one thing, but cheering for your sworn enemy on the football field simply because you share a conference just seems a little odd. Come on, Baylor fans — are you really going to be supporting TCU when it visits Minnesota on opening weekend, just for the Big 12 props?

And yet, the disdain for all things SEC stands tall in the heart of Texas and beyond. When an SEC team falls — and none fell harder than Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last season against Ohio State — the college football world celebrates.

Baylor fans, don’t be so quick to judge. The Bears are not in the SEC and they never have been, but the school as a whole is a perfect fit for the conference.

Don’t worry. It’s probably not going to happen. The SEC is full right now with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri. Fourteen is perfect. No Power-5 conference has more.

But let’s rewind the sporting world back to 2011, when it was first announced that A&M and Missouri were parting ways with the Big 12. Let’s say Baylor accepted an invite instead.

Baylor wouldn’t be any less of the balanced athletic force it has become today. In fact, it might have a little more firepower on a national level.

Let’s face it. The Bears can hang with SEC teams in football. Put them in the SEC West, and they’re probably a contender for the division, logjammed at the top with Alabama. I believe last year’s team would have beaten both Mississippi schools, Auburn, Arkansas, LSU and — gasp! — Texas A&M.

Put them in the East, and Baylor is headed to the Georgia Dome for the championship game. Last year’s East champ, Missouri, might have been the weakest division winner in years. Even Georgia, which cracked the top 10 to close out the 2014 season, demonstrated too much inconsistency throughout the season to potentially handle the Bears’ tantalizing offense.

How about basketball?

No problem, and it’s not even a question.

The SEC is a borderline basketball conference, obviously weighted by Kentucky with occasional sparks from teams like Florida, Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Baylor is fully capable of handling the rigors of the schedule that comes with playing in one of the toughest basketball conferences in America, the Big 12. Five trips to the NCAA tournament since 2008 and an NIT title to boot. Three Sweet Sixteens and two Elite Eights under Scott Drew. A regular in the top 25.

An SEC-supplemented Baylor means potential conference titles for the Bears, with only Kentucky as the road block in the way.

And it’s not as if recruiting would take a hit, or at least that’s what the rankings suggest — three SEC teams were acknowledged by 247sports’ basketball recruiting rankings for 2015, including No. 1 Kentucky and three total top-10 teams. The Big 12 only had one, Kansas. And Baylor sat 37th.

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Bu women ra7

The Lady Bears dominated the Big 12 last season, winning the regular season and conference tournament titles.

As for women’s basketball, it’s a fair assessment that the Lady Bears could contend in any conference in the country, as long as Connecticut and Notre Dame aren’t around until tournament time. No argument here — the SEC is no match.

Baylor took a ding in baseball this past year, and the Bears would probably need to chisel the program back into shape over time in order to shine in what might be the most SEC-dominant sport of them all. The conference sent four teams to the College World Series, making up half the field.

But to give the Bears credit on the diamond, they did muster up a nice little run in this year’s Big 12 tournament, including an upset over eventual World Series squad TCU. Once upon a time, the aughts were particularly friendly to Baylor with a string of NCAA tournament berths and a few Big 12 titles scattered throughout. The last came in 2012, so we’re not talking about a perennial bottom-feeder.

And besides, Texas A&M seems to have fit into the SEC nicely with a record well over .500 since joining the conference, along with a Super Regional under their belt from earlier this year.

But it’s those smaller sports that make Baylor such an SEC-ish school.

Take equestrian, for example. The Bears were a semifinalist in the NCEA Championship, which was even held here in Waco. The champion? South Carolina. The runner-up? Georgia. The fourth semifinalist? Auburn.

The SEC and Big 12 both sent four teams to the championship. Baylor was the only non-SEC squad that could break into the semifinals. The Bears are competing with SEC-caliber riders in that regard.

Like baseball, the SEC has a stronghold in softball, sending five teams to the Women’s College World Series and eventually being represented in the winner’s circle by Florida for a second consecutive year. Baylor is a perennial force in the Big 12 with three World Series appearances dating back to 2007, and should have no problem getting acclimated to the SEC grind.

Throw in competitive squads in tennis and golf — both men and women — plus talented track and field athletes that have recently competed at the national stage. Don’t worry about adding a men’s soccer team. The SEC doesn’t sponsor it.

And of course, there’s the defending champion acrobatics and tumbling team, a solid substitute for the SEC’s tradition-rich gymnastics programs.

Add it all up, and Baylor has prided itself in being one of the more balanced athletic programs across all its sports. As the Bears proved in the Trib’s 2015 Big 12 all-sports rankings, the university is having no problem competing alongside Texas and Oklahoma, two schools the SEC was rumored to be chasing back when the conference first expressed interest in expanding.

But we can’t forget academics. After all, these are student-athletes we’re talking about.

U.S. News & World Report lists Baylor as the 71st-best university in the country, good for second in the Big 12 behind Texas. The university would still rank in the upper half of the SEC at sixth, behind Vanderbilt (No. 16), Florida (No. 48), Georgia (No. 62) and Texas A&M (No. 68).

More importantly, Baylor can offer a Christian-based educational platform that no SEC school can match. That could serve as a recruiting strength for the Bears in the SEC, where they would be vying for recruits against programs situated in the epicenter of the Bible Belt.

Despise the SEC all you want, Baylor nation. You wouldn’t be the first.

But this school has made all the right moves to stake a claim as one of the nation’s premier athletic programs, and would have absolutely no problem reaping the benefits of SEC membership.

As for green and gold bowties and blazers? Well, that’s your call.

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