Let’s go ahead and make the call, Election Night style, and give Texas A&M to the SEC. On Wednesday, Texas governor Rick Perry, a former Aggie yell leader, told the Dallas Morning News, “As far as I know, conversations are being had.” A&M soon released a statement that was in no way a denial, and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe told the Austin American-Statesman he was taking the reports “very seriously.”
That’s an awful lot of hullabaloo for one August day, but it only underscores the rickety nature of the Big 12, which is technically down to 10 members — Colorado’s in the Pac-12, Nebraska in the Big Ten — and has no place to expand. Indeed, the Big 12 as is might as well be renamed Texas And Everybody Else, seeing as how the tent-pole school has struck its own deal with ESPN to launch the immodestly named Longhorn Network.
If you’re Texas A&M, what’s your motivation to remain in a dying conference where your biggest rival has been handed a massive competitive edge? There was talk two summers ago that the Aggies want badly to bolt for the SEC, which has the advantages of being both a better and more balanced league, but in the end Beebe was able to hold most of his conference together. It’s hard to imagine him doing it again.
An A&M official told the Houston Chronicle the rest of the Big 12 was “tired of Texas.” The rest of the league, you might note, includes Oklahoma. Even though the Dallas Morning News reported that “no other Big 12 team is considering an exit,” it would only make sense for the SEC, assuming it adds a 13th team, to find a 14th just for numerical balance. And Oklahoma, which is ranked No. 1 in the coaches’ preseason football poll, would be the obvious target.
Check the Sooners’ 2011 schedule. Note that Nebraska isn’t on it. That game, which stood for decades as the decider in the old Big Eight, has been lost to realignment. Oklahoma still plays Texas in Dallas and Oklahoma State home-and-home, but who else in the Big 12 stands as a worthy adversary? Kansas? Baylor? Iowa State?
There might be no groundswell for Oklahoma to leave the Big 12 yet, but just wait. When/if Texas A&M departs, would the Sooners want to stay in a nine-team league where its biggest rival has its own network?
No one school owns the SEC. No, not even Alabama. (If Bama did, would Auburn enter the 2011 season as the reigning BCS titlist?) The competition in the SEC is cutthroat, but schools believe that if you work hard enough you can win big. Check that coaches’ poll and you’ll find South Carolina, Arkansas and Mississippi State in the Top 25.
If everybody else in the Big 12 is “tired of Texas,” Oklahoma would surely feel the fatigue more than most. (Let’s note, too, that the Longhorn Network hasn’t even had its premiere.) Oklahoma looked hard at the SEC in the summer of 2010. When/if Texas A&M bolts, the next school to exit could well be riding off in the Sooner Schooner.
By Mark Bradley