Apparently fed up with the University of Texas' domination of the Big 12, Texas A&M University is poised to jump to the Southeastern Conference.
Buzz has been building for over a week, and Friday night reached a crescendo as AggieYell.com, Orangebloods.com, Houston Chronicle, Austin American Statesman and a handful of other organizations reported their sources started talking. Here's the timeline being laid out:
- The SEC presidents are meeting today, discussing the conference realignment.
- The A&M Board of Regents plans to discuss "conference alignment" during a hastily called 3 p.m. telephone meeting on Monday.
- If the SEC concurs and the regents agree to move, the Aggies could be playing Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and the rest of the SEC as early as 2012.
- The Texas House of Representatives House Higher Education Committee scheduled a hearing next Tuesday to discuss the matter, that might be too late.
In a statement UT athletic director DeLoss Dodds said, "We are actively looking at every possible option we have and have been talking to other Big 12 schools. We are strong supporters and members of the Big 12. We'd be disappointed if Texas A&M leaves but, if they do, we wish them well."
Sources at Texas say many options are on the table, including replacing the Aggies. Many fans would love to see old Southwest conference rival Texas Christian University come back home. TCU and Texas have a long history together.
And the University of Houston would likely jump at the opportunity to join the Big 12.
All this SEC talk has other conferences licking their chops. According to Chip Brown at Orangebloods.com, the Pac-12 is making some overtures to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Even Texas is mentioned, possibly bringing the Longhorn Network along for the ride. For that to work, The LH would have to become the Pac-16 Network. Last year, the expanded Pac-12 conference voted to disallow any individual schools television deals, opting instead to try for a conference deal. ESPN might be interested in that.
Speculation about the future of the Aggies started brewing last summer after Nebraska and Colorado announced plans to move to the Big 10 and Pac-10 conferences, respectively. But tradition — the Aggies have been in the Big 12 for 15 years and played many of the same teams in the Southwest Conference for nearly a century before that — and a promise to give A&M a bigger cut of league revenue kept them in the conference.
However, the Aggies' relationship with the Big 12 soured after UT signed a $300 million contract with ESPN to establish the Longhorn Network with an intent to televise high school football games and at least one Big 12 football game a year.
Rumors reached a fevered pitch earlier this week after Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a one-time Aggie yell leader, told The Dallas Morning News that the Aggies were in talks with SEC officials.
"I'll be real honest with you. I just read about it the same time as y'all did. ... As far as I know, conversations are being had. That's frankly all I know. I just refer you to the university and the decision makers over there," Perry said.
Birmingham News sports reporter Jon Solomon notes that A&M is attractive to the SEC because the conference would gain a strong presence in the Dallas and Houston television markets, giving it leverage to renegotiate a more lucrative deal with CBS and ESPN, which carry SEC games. Plus, the SEC would have a foothold to recruit in the massive football-crazy state of Texas.
And House education committee chairman Don Branch, R-Dallas is quoted by Orangebloods.com saying, "There's an argument that going to the SEC would be a good thing so that Texas' biggest schools would have a footprint in two major conferences, so I'm going into this with an open mind."
From a football perspective this move appears to make little sense, and some wonder if the Aggies' anger over the Longhorn Network has clouded their judgment. A&M is arguably one of the top four football programs in the Big 12 while the SEC boasts some of the top football programs in the country. The last five BCS National Champions have all been from the SEC. Arkansas, a former member of the Southwest Conference, has enjoyed mixed success in the SEC. Facing such powerhouse competitors as Alabama, Auburn, Florida and LSU will undoubtedly mean more losses than wins in the near-term for A&M, and substantially less power.
Even so, the desire to get out from under UT's shadow and a lucrative deal with the SEC makes the jump all but certain.