Texas Longhorns' marching band cheers on their team in the first half of the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in 2019.

Credit: Scott Wachter/USA Today Sports via REUTERS

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University of Texas at Austin President Jay Hartzell on Monday publicly defended the school’s decision to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference along with the University of Oklahoma in 2025 and denied Texas lawmakers’ claims that the school violated Big 12 bylaws in doing so.

“This future move is the right thing for our student athletes for our student athletes, our programs and our University in the face of rapid change and increased uncertainty,” Hartzell said.

Hartzell’s comments came during the first hearing of a special Senate committee created to study the conference shakeup’s impact as it became apparent the flagship university was maneuvering to leave the Big 12 Conference. The move could drastically affect the remaining Texas schools that are part of the Big 12 — Texas Christian University, Baylor and Texas Tech.

Since news broke this summer that UT was going to join the SEC, lawmakers worried about the impact on other Texas universities have had few tools to block the move. On Monday, lawmakers criticized the president of the flagship school’s decision as being a calculated choice meant to avoid intervention from legislators during this year’s regular legislative session.

A group of Texas lawmakers last month filed legislation that would prohibit Texas public colleges and universities from switching their conference affiliations without legislative approval. But it was effectively a symbolic move because Gov. Greg Abbott didn’t place university conference affiliations on the special session agenda, which means the bill is ineligible to be passed into law.

But in regular legislative sessions, like the one that ended in May, lawmakers can pass bills about any topic they choose.

“It is timed to avoid the legislature in its legislative session, where it is structured with the power to make decisions,” said Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.

Hartzell said that he initiated discussions with the SEC in the spring — while the regular legislative session was going on.

He disputed claims made by lawmakers and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby that the Texas school violated the league’s bylaws by not giving advance notice of their departure.

“I want to set the record straight — we have and will continue to honor all agreements,” Hartzell said. “We have not violated any Big 12 bylaws.”

Lawmakers argue that the process was done in the dark, and would have far-reaching effects on the remaining schools in the conference, notably the three that reside in Texas.

“We need to make sure that when these processes go down that they’re not done in the dark of night with no consideration for other affected parties,” said state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock.

Disclosure: Texas Christian University and University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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