It is not a rumor, nor is it a figment of your imagination – Texas ATM really does want to leave the Big 12. Unless you have been in a bunker for the past month riding out the stock market roller-coaster from a safe fallout distance, the news or lack thereof is that the Aggies have once again announced they are in mutual endearment with the SEC. Last year when the implosion of the Big 12 seemed all but eminent, the Aggies had their bags packed with ticket in hand waiting to board the train to SEC country until last minute negotiations meant more money for the Big 12 conference members.
"Sharing Revenue" – Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe in June of last year held meetings in an attempt to keep the Big 12 intact and the key incentive was that Beebe stressed the value of sharing revenue with fewer schools, each school getting a larger cut to stay in place.
Committed to The Big 12 Conference
At the time, Texas A&M president Dr. R. Bowen Loftin released this statement about the Aggies decision making process and their commitment to the Big 12 Conference:
"As Bill Byrne and I have said on several occasions, our desire was for the Big 12 Conference to continue," Loftin said back June of 2010. "With the departure of two universities from the conference last week, the Big 12 is certainly not what it was. We are aggressively exploring our options, one of which is for the Big 12 to continue in some form. We have also had extensive discussions with other conferences over the past two days. We continue to evaluate our options in a deliberate manner as we work toward a decision that is in the best long-term interests of Texas A&M."
Holding the Conference Together by a Thread
What Dan Beebe was able to do in keeping the Big 12 together was nothing short of miraculous. He quickly negotiated terms with networks and showed those members who would stay in the Big 12 the money. Beebe went out and secured a 13-year TV deal in April with FOX that will pay the conference $90 million per year.
That was Then, This is Now!
Enter the Texas Longhorn Network. This was the deal breaker for the Aggies. The Longhorns went out and inked a $300 million dollar 20 year agreement with ESPN to establish The Longhorn Network with the possible goal of broadcasting select high school football games. The sentiment from the Aggie perspective was that the Horns were attempting to create unfair recruiting advantages and that there should be a deal instead that partnered Texas and Texas ATM that was mutually beneficial.
It is no secret that there is a well known rivalry between the Aggies and the Longhorns dating back generations. Texas is often viewed as the ‘bigger brother' to Texas ATM and the Aggies went out of their way last year to let all who would listen know, they are very much their own school with their own identity and would not blindly follow Texas' lead. Quite simply, the Aggies want out and away from the shadow of the Longhorns.
Former Texas A&M Football coach Gene Stallings, who only recently left the A&M board of regents this past February, has stated publically that Texas ATM need not ‘ride the coattails' of anyone.
For better or worse, Texas ATM struck a blow for their own independence THEN and has only followed now with what will prove to be the ultimate blow for independence – a complete severing of traditional ties from The University of Texas and an exit from the Big 12.
Dog and Pony Show
And so the SEC presidents gathered with their food for thought and in the end, the conclusion drawn was, not so fast my friend.
This past Sunday, the SEC chairman of the league's presidents and chancellors committee, University of Florida president Bernie Machen, informed the media that the group had met and?….and?…..and?
"Reaffirmed our satisfaction with the present 12 institutional alignment."
Speed bump not a Roadblock
This is but a minor glitch in the process of moving Texas ATM into the SEC. The door is not shut; it is being opened slowly with the utmost attention to detail. UF President Bernie Machen went on to say:
"We recognize, however, that future conditions may make it advantageous to expand the number of institutions in the league," Machen said. "We discussed criteria and process associated with expansion. No action was taken with respect to any institution including Texas A&M."
Possible Translation: We do not have a 14th team lined up YET and adding the Aggies right now could open us up to litigation from the Big 12 for tampering and interference with contract. So in order for us to add Texas ATM, they will have to sever all ties from the Big 12, then we can add them. In order to limit any possible litigation from the Big 12 for tampering, it must be abundantly clear that Texas ATM approached the SEC about joining their conference, not the other way around.
Arkansas chancellor Dave Gearhart has stated following the meeting and driving the point home even further, "(Texas A&M) did approach the SEC, not the other way around…. The bottom line is they did approach the SEC."
What is being reported is that ATM could join the SEC after the finite details are worked out – which is rumored to be in the process right now - and ATM is shooting to start SEC play beginning as soon as the 2012 season.
Ultimatum or Fiscal Responsibility
Dan Beebe cannot force the Aggies hand and he cannot give them an ultimatum. It would be foolish to kick Texas ATM out of the Big 12 so that the SEC could swoop in and quickly add the Aggies without ATM paying exit penalties to the Big 12. Fiscal irresponsibility would be to let the Aggies walk away freely and put the contracts that the Big 12 as a 10 team charter made with ESPN and Fox in jeopardy. Beebe cannot give them an ultimatum either, as he has no powder left to fire the Ags way, they are ready to walk now if the SEC would let them.
Slowing and Steady
And as for the SEC, well they are not in a hurry either, hence the above released statement. Just a hunch here but my guess is the SEC knows ATM is not going to any other conference and they are going to kick the tires and quietly find a 14th member without putting themselves at jeopardy of being sued by the Big 12 for ‘raiding' the conference. Moreover, there are scheduling issues and a host of other issues they would like to think through and slow the process down so that they can pay attention to detail. In other words, the SEC is not on the clock either.
So where does that leave the Big 12?
Deploy the backup plan. Suffice to say that Dan Beebe has had ample time to realize that the Aggies are living on borrowed time in the Big 12. Sure publically he will say that he wants the Ags to stick and stay with the Big 12 but behind the scenes he has prepared and is not waiting on ATM to make their move. Dan has a responsibility for the remaining members of the Big 12 and what is best for the conference and at this time, it is not waiting to see when ATM leaves.
Contingency Plan In Place
Dan Beebe recently stated: "
We're making plans for all sorts of alternative situations that may present themselves. I think we would be derelict in our duties if we didn't….I think 10 seems to be the number our folks are real excited about maintaining, and we feel we have an attractive group of institutions that might be attractive to others to consider."
This meaning as soon as the Aggies formally make their announcement to defect, the Big 12 will move on and replace them. Beebe has been quoted as saying that Texas ‘holds the keys to the Big 12' and as long as Texas does not leave the Big 12 will survive and the other 9 members will remain within the conference.
Well that right there is a more important question as the eventuality of the Aggies to the SEC is good drama at this point in time for the realists. The names making their way through the rumor mill are candidates such as Notre Dame, BYU (independent), Air Force, Houston and TCU. Expect this list to change frequently as there are rumors that the Big 12 has comprised a list of over 20 possible candidate schools to replace Texas ATM when they leave. What you can count on most is change. Texas ATM will change conferences, the Big 12 will change in some form or fashion and the landscape of College Football is certain to change in the near future.