George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice are both longtime football fans, and now both are interested in helping programs caught in the middle of conference realignment.
The college football landscape is suddenly a moving target, and the changes are not hitting all schools the same way. For some, it means big-money moves to new conferences, while others have been left out in the cold. But for two teams that fall into the latter category, some major political figures are stepping in to try and save their favorite teams.
Sports Illustrated's Pat Forde reported that Bush and Rice are both pushing for SMU and Stanford to join the ACC.
Stanford is one of the programs that find themselves in a bad spot. After consistently contending as one of the top teams of the 2010s, they have declined in a huge way since losing the 2017 Pac-12 Championship game, and are suddenly one of just four teams left in the dying conference after teams have taken off for the Big Ten and Big 12.
SMU is not in quite as much trouble, as the American Athletic Conference isn't crumbling in the same way the Pac-12 is, but there's definitely questions about the future of the smaller "Group of Five" conferences as the sport begins to consolidate into two or three "super-conferences". SMU wouldn't be the first team to jump from the American to the ACC, as Louisville made the same move in 2014. Meanwhile, three major teams, Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF, just switched over to the Big 12 for the upcoming season.
Luckily for both schools, they have friends in the highest of places- the White House, to be exact. George W. Bush has reportedly contacted ACC officials to do what he can in terms of boosting SMU's case to join the conference, while Condoleezza Rice, Bush's second Secretary of State, appears to have done the same on Stanford's behalf.
Rice has spent multiple stints on the Stanford faculty, and this isn't her first foray into the world of college football. She was one of the inaugural members of the College Football Playoff committee, serving for three memorable seasons. She was never able to get Stanford into the top four, but has long been a loyal representative of the program.
Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, was never a SMU student, as he picked up his undergraduate degree from Yale and his MBA from Harvard, but he does have some direct affiliations with the University. His wife Laura attended the school, and it is also the site of his Presidential Library, so he certainly has a strong interest in the school's future.
The ACC is setting itself up as the strongest alternative to the rising Big Ten/SEC dichotomy that looks to dominate the next era of college sports. If the conference is able to survive, and gain a foothold in the upcoming wave of reorganization for playoff qualification and bowl affiliation, joining could be a game changer, a lifeline of sorts, for Stanford and SMU's football programs.
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