The Latest Realignment Tidbits

Since the Texas A&M Board of Regents met on Monday to give President Bowen Loftin the authority to negotiate with other conferences, news in the public media has subsided. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop has spoken to several insiders to get the scoop on what is really happening behind the closed doors.

all parties are being very, very quiet. A&M officials wanted the word to get out last week to stir the pot and I think the story got a little too far down the road for their liking. Plus, this is a very sensitive time right now for Texas A&M. There has been significant damage to the relationship with the Big 12 to the point of no return I believe. My sources who have had direct contact with Dr. Loftin over the past week seem to think that any realistic chance to return to the Big 12 is just about done. In fact, I've had people tell me that if for whatever reason the SEC fell through, A&M would go "somewhere else" rather than return to the Big 12 in good faith.

The most frequent question I am getting now is about timing and when will Texas A&M announce it is leaving the Big 12. A&M must do that before submitting an application to the SEC for entry. Really, it is not in A&M's interest to make that announcement and leave the Big 12 until Loftin and A&M legal counsel have met with the Big 12 and negotiated a settlement. As part of the Big 12 now, the Aggies have leverage. Dan Beebe, Texas, and the rest of the Big 12 can't move forward with their plans to expand and replace Texas A&M until the university announces it is leaving. For all of the negative banter back and forth, Texas A&M is still a member of the Big 12 in good standing. Dan Beebe's hands are tied as long as A&M quietly sits by without making an announcement.

It's a game of poker. Both sides know what will eventually happen. A&M is leaving…but when. And who holds the key to that answer…Texas A&M. That's called leverage in negotiations and that's what I think is partly fueling Loftin's silence.

The other issue of the delay is the SEC. Loftin isn't going to announce he's leaving the Big 12 until he knows that the SEC has EVERY issue resolved regarding these allegations from Texas and Baylor of tampering that has resulted in Baylor "lawyering up" with a threat of a legal suit against the SEC. In talking to my sources, the SEC has reviewed the situation and feels there is no merit to a potential lawsuit. In fact, SEC legal counsel has been very active on this case from day one and even scheduled a meeting yesterday with Buddy Jones and Ken Starr of Baylor, a meeting they initially accepted but later canceled. From what my source said, Baylor knows its case is very weak and it would have come to light in that meeting. By canceling and rattling the sabers in the media, they are hoping to simply slow down the process and give the Big 12 time to find a replacement. Baylor knows that the only way to survive is for the Big 12 to remain intact in some form or fashion. The odds are much better of that happening if the Texas A&M to the SEC domino (that will trigger massive realignment) is delayed even by a week or two. From that standpoint, Baylor's tactics have been effective so far.

But the other thing that is assisting in slowing down the expansion momentum from the SEC is the search for a viable No. 14 team. It's easier said than done. The obvious choices like Florida State and Clemson have obstacles in getting the necessary votes because they have rivals already in the SEC (USC, Florida) and they don't want to share the SEC brand in their state…similar to why Aggie fans aren't nearly as excited about going to the SEC with Texas or OU. Ideally, the SEC was hoping for Virginia Tech or another ACC school that expands the geographic boundary of the conference that brings a large and loyal fan following. West Virginia has been mentioned as a possibility, but there's some concern over lack of major TV markets and that the school doesn't travel well for road games. The other complication just popped up yesterday…the Miami scandal. There's talk that the ACC will consider kicking the Hurricanes out of the ACC and will look to not only find a replacement for No. 12, but will also start looking to expand as well. West Virginia and Pitt are two schools mentioned as possibilities. The point here is that expansion is turning into a very complicated and difficult mess. There is a lot of uncertainty, and the ultimate expansion plans for the SEC fall into that pool of uncertainty. After Texas A&M, then who and when? Two weeks ago, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the SEC would quickly pick up a quality No. 14 school to go along with the Aggies. It doesn't seem that simple now.

What has really thrown a wrench into plans for the No. 14 is that the SEC felt that the fall-back position was to take Missouri and deal with both expansion schools coming from the west. Well, Missouri has shown interest, but the Tigers are in no hurry at this point. They think that when A&M announces to the SEC it will cause the Big 10 and others to expand, and they really want a Big 10 offer. They see the Big 10 as a better cultural and academic fit. Missouri is still interested in the SEC, but timing and its desire to wait on the Big 10 has been a disappointment to the SEC.

So where does that leave us? Waiting. The SEC wants Texas A&M, and the Aggies want the SEC. That we know for a fact. Heck, A&M just announced this afternoon that they've hired Alabama's Director of Marketing and Promotions…somebody at A&M needs to understand the SEC market quickly and hot the ground running.

As I've been saying, the issue is timing. I know A&M fans want to get this over with and move on, but it is in both the interest of Texas A&M and the SEC to be prudent here and not panic. A quick announcement to leave the Big 12 by A&M could cost the university a few million dollars in exit fees, but more importantly it could affect the public perception of the university in the state moving forward politically. Good for Texas A&M that the consequences of leaving the Big 12 don't look quite as daunting as it did just a week ago. It appears that the Big 12 Office has backed off earlier claims that A&M breaking its commitment would cost the university $20-$30 million in exit fees. Obviously, A&M's legal counsel had done their homework reading the fine print of the contract when the Big 12 hadn't. So even in a worst case scenario, A&M's exit fee will be closer to $9 million. And as I said, as long as Loftin is comfortable holding his cards and waiting on the Big 12 to get nervous, that $9 million could be negotiated down by several million dollars.

And then there's the Baylor/Texas smear campaign and lawsuit. It appears that Texas has moved on and realized they needed to go find a new conference member, or get to work on another deal. With the LHN set to kick off in a week and so many unanswered questions, they don't have time to deal with A&M. That leaves Baylor, and the SEC isn't worried after looking at the details of the situation. To put the final nail in the coffin, nobody is buying this Perryman Study that shows how much A&M will hurt the state by leaving the Big 12 to the tune of $200 million. In fact, Internet sports business analysts are pretty much ripping that study and providing evidence that the move will likely be a net positive in revenues for the state. So the smear campaign is losing steam quickly, and the threat of a political lash-back in 2013 doesn't seem as big of a deal as it did a month ago.

So it's all playing out on A&M's end. The only bump in the road is coming from the SEC and their difficulty in finding a 14th team. That shouldn't affect Texas A&M, but it would be ideal for the Aggies to come into the conference with a very strong dance partner. It hurts the luster of the SEC and it hurts the TV revenue share of each member if the 14th team can't add more revenue dollars to offset adding the 14th slice to the pie. It's a no brainer that Texas A&M brings in more from a market standpoint than it will take out with its 13th slice. If the SEC can't persuade Missouri, Virginia Tech, or one of the Carolina schools to join, then the 14th slice may not add enough to the equation.

So with all that said, Texas A&M is still headed to the SEC. I'm still thinking the first announcement leaving the Big 12 will come sometime in the next 1-2 weeks, and the rest of the process will quickly fall into place. Timing depends on the Big 12 finding a 10th member and their willingness to negotiate Texas A&M's exit quickly.

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