A Q&A With MSU President Mark Keenum

Mississippi State president Mark Keenum talks one-on-one with Gene's Page about the possible expansion of the Southeastern Conference from twelve teams to thirteen teams thanks to the possible addition of Texas A&M into the conference.

What is the current situation in regard to Texas A&M joining the Southeastern Conference?
"Last night, we (the SEC presidents) were called to Atlanta by (SEC) Commissioner Slive to discuss the possibility of accepting the application that had been submitted to the conference by Texas A&M to join the SEC. We were to arrive at 6 pm. As the different presidents and chancellors arrived we gathered together and the commissioner came in and said we have had a late-breaking development. He said we have heard from one of the Big 12 member schools, one of the presidents of one of their schools called and said he would no longer support his earlier agreement to give Texas A&M complete legal waiver to leave the Big 12. He had changed his position and would pursue legal actions against the Southeastern Conference if we were to extend an invitation to Texas A&M. We also heard from the commissioner of the Big 12 and he basically reiterated that a member school had withdrawn their earlier support and he anticipated legal action from that particular school.

"So, that was the situation as we entered the meeting last night. It was a complete surprise to all of us because we had received a letter from Dan Beebe, the Commissioner of the Big 12, last Friday, September 2nd, that clearly spelled out that their league had unanimously voted to give Texas A&M complete legal waiver from any potential legal action, allowing them to leave the Big 12 conference. That's what prompted the formal meeting of all the presidents coming to Atlanta and making a decision as to whether or not we wanted to accept Texas A&M as a member of the SEC. Texas A&M had submitted a formal application for admittance to the SEC. But due to the latest development we weren't able to extend that invitation.

"However, we did vote last night. And I believe we sent a very strong message in our action last night. We had a unanimous vote to, basically, say that we would be willing to invite Texas A&M to be a member of the SEC pending a resolution of the legal issues that are still outstanding between them and the Big 12.

"We, basically, said the letter we received (from the Big 12) needs to be reaffirmed by their league. Once that is the case, then we will extend an invitation. But it has to be to our satisfaction that we feel satisfied that we won't be encumbered by lawsuits that will be tied up in courts for years.

"Once the attorneys for the SEC assure all the members (of the SEC) that Texas A&M is legally free and clear to leave their conference we would welcome them into the SEC."

You mentioned it was a unanimous vote by the SEC presidents. What advantage does it give to the SEC and Mississippi State to have Texas A&M join the SEC? I'm guessing it's the prestige of Texas A&M but I also have to assume the money it will generate for the SEC is also a significant part of it.
"I think what you just described (is correct). First of all, Texas A&M is an outstanding institution, academically and athletically. It's a member of the prestigious American Association of Universities, the AAU, which speaks volumes for the quality of its academic programs. And it is obviously a major powerhouse when it comes to collegiate athletics. They've won numerous national NCAA championships in various sports. They are a university that is rich in history and tradition with a huge supportive fanbase. It's a land-grant institution, which is something that I personally like about Texas A&M. Their mission is the same as ours. So, there are a lot of similarities as well as relationships that we already have due to research between our two institutions.

"I also think that it will enhance the value of the conference which will result in additional revenues for the conference and all of its members.

"I think they bring a tremendous amount of value to the SEC."

You mentioned revenues. Did the SEC presidents and commissioner speculate how much additional revenue Texas A&M could bring to the SEC or is that something you really have no idea about?
"I wouldn't say that we have no idea but we didn't dwell on how much more of this or that. While it is a given that the SEC is the premiere conference in college athletics, bringing in a school of this caliber will only enhance the value of our conference. With our existing contracts with our media outlets, I think there is a lot of excitement about them joining the SEC and what they would bring to our conference. I think it will enhance our value. And that is what our commissioner and other members of our SEC staff believe. Of course, this is all hypothetical, so we have no specifics. But there is a high degree of probability that it will bring additional financial support to the conference."

Is there a window in the media contracts that allow the SEC to re-negotiate if they add an additional team to the conference?
"I believe our commissioner has been in constant contact with our media partners and they are fully aware of what we are doing. And they are giving very solid, positive signals back to the commissioner. Again, I think there is a great sense of excitement about the possibility of a school of this magnitude joining our conference."

You mentioned the positives you see bringing in a team of Texas A&M's magnitude athletically. They are already a powerhouse athletic program. Mississippi State is still trying to reach that type status. Are you a little concerned about adding another school that powerful athletically?
"We play powerhouse teams almost every week. That is not an issue for us. We compete and we have been successful. So we don't view that as a threat at all. We are accustomed to having a smaller budget and playing against schools with a lot bigger budgets and a lot bigger facilities and being competitive against them. We aren't worried about them coming in with a bigger budget."

Speaking of budgets, one of the biggest benefits of this, in my opinion, is MSU's budgets should go up even more due to increased revenue from the SEC media partners.
"Absolutely, no question. Anything that enhances the revenues for the conference as a whole, which we believe this move will, will directly benefit Mississippi State."

Do you know how it will affect the scheduling of conference games?
"(Laugh) We all acknowledge that. The commissioner said it will complicate things. He didn't say exactly how we will deal with it. He just said we will deal with it. And I have complete confidence in the commissioner and all of our athletic directors in the league that we will find a way to make it work. It won't be easy but we will figure it out."

There are rumors that the SEC will add more teams, increasing it to 14 and possibly even 16 teams? Are those just rumors? Do you, as presidents and chancellors, talk about things like that when you get together?
"Clearly, when you have that many presidents and chancellors together, there are a lot of hypothetically discussions. Once we do this, then what is next? That is a big unknown because we, as a conference, are not going to solicit membership to our conference. We are just not going to do that. Just like in this case, we did not solicit Texas A&M. They came knocking on our door, saying that they wanted to leave their conference. They wanted to know if they could legally leave their conference would we be interested in taking them. Obviously, with a school of their caliber we gave it a lot of consideration and decided that we would like for them to be a member of the SEC, assuming that they can get all of their legal issues resolved.

"We don't know what the future holds for some other schools that may wind up saying the same thing to us. But we would treat them the same way we have treated Texas A&M - we would evaluate the school and see how it would benefit us. Then, we would make a decision as a league. Again, it would depend on whether that school can get all of its legal issues resolved."

I know you mentioned that the SEC won't attempt to solicit teams to come to the SEC but if a team is currently in another conference they can contact the SEC about joining your conference?
"That is correct. We can't stop somebody from doing that."

Have the SEC presidents looked at how many schools might be a fit for the SEC just in case other school started contacting you?
"Obviously, you can look at the caliber of a Texas A&M as an indication of what we believe would fit the SEC. There is probably not a long, long list of schools that we feel would be a good fit but there are obviously other schools that we would consider if that ever arises."

Wouldn't one of the requirements be geographics?
"We are the Southeastern Conference. The geographics will always be a part of it."

There have been rumors that schools like Missouri or West Virginia may be the next to join the SEC. Any truth to those rumors?
"There is no other school that we are thinking about. And we can't cross that bridge until we get over this bridge with Texas A&M."

Once the legal issue is resolved what is SEC's next step? When would Texas A&M be an official member of the SEC?
"Assuming that the Big 12 assures our commissioner and our legal team that they are in fact free and clear, then what we would probably do is the commissioner would share the new letter to all the presidents and chancellors confirming that they are in fact legally clear. We would probably then be required to take another vote.

"If all that happens, then Texas A&M would be invited to be a member of the SEC. I think they, technically, wouldn't be a member until the fall of 2012 or maybe in July (2012). But there wouldn't be any competition until the fall of 2012."

Once they become official members of the SEC, when would Texas A&M start sharing revenue with the other SEC teams?
"All of that will be worked out between our commissioner, who advocates for all the schools, and our media partners. And he's already had preliminary conversations with our media partners about this potential situation. I have complete confidence that our commissioner and, if all this happens, that Mississippi State University not only won't be harmed in any way financially, but that we will be enhanced and better off."

When did Texas A&M first contact the SEC about joining the SEC?
"During the spring of 2010 there was talk about this at that time. They contacted us back then about the possibility of joining the SEC. There were discussions between our commissioner and their president at that time. There was also talk about Texas going to the PAC-12 and Oklahoma possibly going to the PAC-12 to form a 16-team league. So, Texas A&M reached out to us at that time. During the course of the summer the Big 12 got together and said they would stay together. This was after Nebraska and Colorado left. The remaining teams got together and decided they would stick together. They then signed a tv deal with FOXSports. That was the end of it until probably sometime during the summer when Texas A&M reached out to our commissioner and told him they wanted to leave the Big 12. They asked him if the SEC would be interested in them if they decided to leave the Big 12. That started the process for us as a league."

Do you feel like their leaving will have a domino affect on other leagues?
"I think it clearly will. I don't think there is any question about that."

Why do you believe that?
"I think there is a high degree of probability that you will see further shifting. Again, the way I understand it, Texas A&M is leaving the Big 12. So, they are either going to the SEC, the PAC-12 or somewhere or they will be an independent. Texas A&M has made it very clear that they don't want to be a member of the Big 12 any longer. That in itself will have a major impact on major college conferences."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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