September 12, 2011
On the last episode of the roiling melodrama, "One Conference to Join," the SEC finally returned Texas A&M's affections by unanimously voting to accept A&M as the conference's 13th member — until Baylor, desperate to preserve its lifestyle in the Big 12, stepped in to block the Aggies' defection with the threat of a lawsuit. Just when it thought it was out, A&M found itself being held hostage in its own conference.
That hasn't changed: The Aggies are still looking for a clean break with the Big 12. But at least they have a light at the end of the tunnel, via SEC commissioner Mike Slive, who reiterated today that the SEC has accepted A&M's application to join the conference and is just waiting for the moment when they can finally be together (emphasis added):
"As I said over the past year or so, the SEC has had no particular interest in expansion. We were, and are, happy with 12 teams. If Texas A&M's President, Dr. Bowen Loftin had not called me in late July, we had no plans to explore adding an institution.
"However, when President Loftin called we became interested. Texas A&M is an outstanding academic institution with an exceptional athletic program, passionate fans and wonderful traditions. While the SEC wasn't thinking about expansion, it was impossible not to be interested in Texas A&M. As you can see from the unanimous vote of our twelve Presidents/Chancellors, we would very much like to have Texas A&M as a member of our conference.
"When Texas A&M joins our conference, we don't have immediate plans for a 14th member. We aren't thinking in terms of numbers. We think about the strength of the SEC and the attractiveness of Texas A&M as an institution."
That's a key shift in rhetoric — not if, but when Texas A&M joins the conference, it will be welcomed with open arms. To that end, Slive also said the SEC is already beginning to look into revamping conference schedules in 2012-13 for 13 teams. That doesn't leave much wiggle room: Barring an even bigger miracle than the one that kept the Big 12 from disintegrating last summer, the Aggies will be playing in the SEC next season.
That reality's not lost on Oklahoma, which is pretty clearly packing up the wagon to join the Pac-12 at the first available opportunity. According to Orangebloods.com, that could come by the end of the month, with Oklahoma State following suit; according to the Tulsa World's John Hoover, it come as soon as next Monday, when he says the Oklahoma Board of Regents is scheduled to meet to discuss and perhaps vote on an exit strategy from the Big 12. At that point, even Baylor's lawyers couldn't bar the door.
From the sounds of it, Baylor's lawyers aren't even going to be able to keep A&M in the fold for much longer without Texas and/or Oklahoma throwing their weight behind keeping the conference intact, which neither seems inclined to do. The SEC is on the verge of accepting the Aggies unconditionally, legal baggage and all. When that domino finally falls, there's no telling when or where the chain reaction will stop. But the best guess is still at the Big 12's tombstone.