September 25, 2011
It was only a matter of time, and that time has come: After weeks of come-hither glances, false starts, idle threats and sordid melodrama, Texas A&M is officially leaving the Big 12 next year to become the 13th member of the SEC. From the SEC office:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (September 25, 2011) — The Southeastern Conference Presidents and Chancellors, acting unanimously, announced today that Texas A&M University will join the Southeastern Conference effective July 1, 2012, with competition to begin in all sports for the 2012-13 academic year.
"The Southeastern Conference Presidents and Chancellors are pleased to welcome Texas A&M University to the SEC family," said Dr. Bernie Machen, chair of the SEC Presidents and Chancellors and president of the University of Florida. "The addition of Texas A&M University as the SEC's 13th member gives our league a prestigious academic institution with a strong athletic tradition and a culture similar to our current institutions."
Obligatory nod to "academics" notwithstanding, the SEC gets a program that already earns and spends on par with SEC heavies, draws SEC-sized crowds to Kyle Field and has ready access to some of the richest recruiting grounds in the country. The Aggies can more than hold their own in terms of economics, intensity and access to high-end talent from day one.
In terms of actual competition, well… we know they're up to snuff in the non-revenue sports, at least. As for football, the jury is still out. But for all the visions of doom for the Aggies' prospects in the big, bad SEC, their status as a second-tier power with potential is essentially a lateral move.
It's not like they've been burning a path of destruction through the Big 12. A&M hasn't won a conference championship since 1998, its only appearance in the Big 12 championship game. That was also the year Mack Brown was hired to resurrect Texas, just ahead of Bob Stoops' arrival at fast-fading Oklahoma in 1999. With the traditional regional powers restored to their traditional glory, A&M spent the last decade playing second banana not only to the Longhorns and Sooners, but also to traditional also-ran Texas Tech, which beat the Aggies seven times out of eight from 2001-08. Before last year's abrupt midseason turnaround, A&M had gone a full decade since its last top-25 finish in the final polls. It hasn't finished in the top 10 since 1994, in the dying days of the old Southwest Conference.
Overheated reputations aside, life in the SEC doesn't figure to be very different. As in the Big 12, A&M should maintain a steady .500 existence within the conference, experience the occasional peaks and valleys, and enjoy regular trips to second-class bowl games — more or less the same trajectory Arkansas and South Carolina have traveled since joining the league in 1992, and one the Aggies should be accustomed to by now. On the heels of the Big 12's lucrative new television contract with Fox, they're not likely to find their new surroundings that much more profitable, either.
What they will find is exactly what they were looking for: A stable league that shares its spoils equally with every member, and has never been threatened by one or two schools dominating the rest of the conference in terms of finances, recruiting, media exposure or anything else. If there's one clear advantage the SEC enjoys over the Big 12 right now — assuming the Big 12 is going to survive as a major conference after weathering its second existential scare in as many years — it's parity.
Now: Going forward, the uneasy armistice holding the remaining nine members of the Big 12 together is directly threatened by the SEC's need to balance its newest addition with another to bring the ranks to an even 14. Last week, the most likely candidate for that role was Missouri, the one Big 12 school that remains openly uncommitted to the Big 12 if it can wrangle a better offer — that is, an offer from the SEC, which was reportedly in the works before the Big 12 crawled out of the morgue last Tuesday night.
With Texas A&M, the SEC made clear it didn't want to be perceived as a poacher on another conference's turf — it wanted A&M to extricate itself completely before they could be seen together in public. Still, when the Aggies' exit began to prove problematic, the SEC quickly dropped the pretense and commenced with an open courtship until it got what it wanted. If it wants Missouri, is it willing to go to the same lengths? Or should the Tigers begin bracing themselves for a thicket of bureaucratic hoops on faith alone?
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