There was a time where the New Mexico Lobos were basically in to join the soon-to-be Big 12 back in 1996.
The Lobos were to get into the league with BYU and there were high-pitch rumors that it was former Texas Governor Ann Richards who blocked the move, but that is not entirely true, or mixed up information on her involvement.
Here is an excerpt from a 2009 article by Brian Davis of the Dallas Morning News.
"She just was not involved to any great degree in working that out," said Richards' former chief of staff, John Fainter. "I'd have to say she was informed, but she wasn't pounding the table or anything like that."
Bill Cryer, Richards' former spokesman, said Richards always thought it was funny that people assumed she bent over backward to help Baylor.
"I remember her chuckling about it saying, 'I can't imagine they think I would do that,' " Cryer said. "But you know how football fans are. They see want they want to see."
History could have been a lot different in Albuquerque, most specifically there would be no Mike Locksley running the football program into the ground.
Fast forward to the present, and the Big 12 is looking to add teams again and there has not been a peep about the Lobos getting into the league.
That has changed as the Lobos have sent a letter to the Big 12 about wanting to gain entrance on possibly the final train to get into a Power Five league.
Blame Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, and the league presidents, for New Mexico’s name emerging as a possible candidate as the league basically said to contact the league for any schools that wanted in, so the Lobos decided to go for it.
Who can blame them?
“Once they made it known that they were officially interested in expanding,” UNM Vice President for Athletics Paul Krebs said to the ABQ Journal.“[So], we expressed our interest in an official capacity, which was a notice from the university and President Frank.”
The Albuquerque Journal obtained a letter from New Mexico to Bowlsby which was signed by President Robert G. Frank on July 22. It is a mix of academics and athletics success for this persuasive letter.
The letter stated some facts about why the Lobos should be considered for the Big 12, but first a pitch as to why New Mexico should be added.
Sports reporters, ESPN broadcasters, and all the other outlets are advancing many names for possible Big 12 expansion. None of those universities or colleges can match the athletic and academic prowess of The University of New Mexico (UNM), a school which is not only within the Big 12’s regional footprint, but is a research institution with a diverse student population and a rich cultural history. UNM fits the core values of the conference’s peer institutions, and has a collegiate fan base and media base to match.
New Mexico is tied at 180th per U.S. News and World Report as the best university, and that would be below every Big 12 team; West Virginia comes in at 175th. So, if academic ranking matters than the is a strike against the Lobos.
The letter the Lobos sent mention a different set of academic rankings:
The University of New Mexico ranked 82nd nationally and 196th globally in the 2016 Center for World University rankings, with especially good performance in research productivity. This ranking would place UNM second in the Big 12, behind only Texas.
Then they go to market size but they pick and choose their targets and leave out other potential Big 12 markets that come in higher such as Denver/Fort Collins, Provo/Salt Lake or Orlando. Not sure why Honolulu was mentioned.
UNM’s television market is 48th nationally. This is higher than Louisville, Memphis, Tulsa and Honolulu, and comparable to Oklahoma City. In addition, The University of New Mexico is the premier sports entity in the state. The men’s basketball program has finished in the top 25 in attendance for each of the last 50 years. UNM has also been in the top 25 regularly for attendance in women’s basketball, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, baseball and volleyball.
Basketball is a good reason to include the Lobos but football really drives the bus in realignment and while Bob Davie is doing a very good job in digging them out of that hole Locksley left them they are not there yet.
Maybe had New Mexico been able to make it to the Mountain West title game last year and upset San Diego State they would have some more credit, but they slipped up against Colorado State and didn’t even win their division.
There are other notes in the letter such as the 36 conference titles that the Lobos have won over the past five years and their Learfield Director’s Cup Standings where New Mexico has finished between 41st and 74th over the past decade.
We suggest reading this letter in its entirety, but the truth is that the Lobos are a long shot get the call by the Big 12. However, when the Big 12 welcomes all to apply for the league this was a chance that New Mexico could not turn down and make a case for joining the Big 12.