August 12, 2011
If you'd asked me 72 hours ago about the fate of the "Texas A&M to the SEC?" rumors beginning to pop up on A&M message boards, I'd have written it off as wishful thinking, remnants of the Aggies' failed flirtation with the Southeastern Conference last summer. Forty-eight hours ago, I would have continued writing them off as idle speculation, and that only rising to that level after the world's most powerful Aggie lent the chatter some credence. Twenty-four hours ago, I would have put the odds at fifty-fifty.
As of right now, every indication is that the skeptics have been trounced: All signs this afternoon point to Texas A&M voting to leave the Big 12 for the SEC as early as next week, with certainty rapidly approaching 100 percent.
On Monday, the A&M Board of Regents is scheduled to meet to discuss "Authorization for the President to Take All Actions Relating to Texas A&M University's Athletic Conference Alignment." (That meeting, originally scheduled for the following Monday, Aug. 22, was moved up by a week earlier today.) On Tuesday, the Higher Education Committee of the Texas House of Representatives is scheduled to meet to "discuss matters pertaining to higher education, including collegiate athletics."
Earlier today, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe reportedly told Texas A&M that "Texas holds the key to the long-term future" of the conference, and the Big 12 can survive A&M's departure as long as the Longhorns remain in the fold. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds told a reporter "It looks to me like they're leaving," and reiterated that the Big 12 would be fine with nine teams instead of the current ten. Kansas president Sheahon Zenger told the Kansas City Star that "nine schools are firmly committed to the Big 12."
Clearly, Texas A&M is not among them. Based on last year's hot-and-heavy pursuit of an alternative to Texas' short-lived pact with the Pac-10, it's not a reach to say it probably never was — not least of all because of Texas' place as the sun around which the rest of the Big 12 revolved after Nebraska and Colorado fled for greener pastures in other leagues. The miraculous alliance Dan Beebe forged between the remaining ten members appeared doomed from the start; the clock began ticking toward the next crisis as soon as the Longhorn Network became a reality.
And so the old expansion fight is back in full swing, this time just as the curtain is set to rise on a new season. If this afternoon's tea leaves are correct, it took barely a year after Beebe's 11th-hour triumph to save the conference from oblivion for the first piece to fall back out of place. Confident rhetoric aside, it can hardly be the last, especially if Texas and Oklahoma are back in the sights of the other power conferences as they pick up the scent of blood in the water.
If A&M becomes the SEC's 13th member, it will inevitably pursue a fourteenth. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott came within a hair's breadth last year of making his vision of a continent-straddling, 16-school behemoth a reality, and with only four slots to fill this time — say, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech? Baylor? — he may make another run at it. The newly expanded Big Ten can't sit on its cash-filled hands while the rest of the country divvies up the spoils of the next Big 12 implosion, and the Big East can't afford to. Texas may very well survey the landscape and strike out on its own.
Of course, the last time the Big 12 was teetering on the brink of collapse, rumors of its demise turned out to be greatly exaggerated. As we learned last year, no "done deal" is ever really done until the votes are in. But as he arrives at another fateful weekend, Beebe has to be thinking that there are only so many meteors he can elude.
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