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SEC agrees to accept Texas A&M – as soon as Baylor lets the Aggies go

It's official: After weeks of flirting, note-passing and covert hand-holding outside the movie theater, the SEC has finally agreed to accept Texas A&M as one of its own:

Statement from Dr. Bernie Machen, Chair, Southeastern Conference Presidents and Chancellors:

After receiving unanimous written assurance from the Big 12 on September 2 that the Southeastern Conference was free to accept Texas A&M to join as a new member, the presidents and chancellors of the SEC met last night with the intention of accepting the application of Texas A&M to be the newest member of the SEC. We were notified yesterday afternoon that at least one Big 12 institution had withdrawn its previous consent and was considering legal action. The SEC has stated that to consider an institution for membership, there must be no contractual hindrances to its departure. The SEC voted unanimously to accept Texas A&M University as a member upon receiving acceptable reconfirmation that the Big 12 and its members have reaffirmed the letter dated September 2, 2011.

Thus ends the long — wait a second, can we hear that middle part again?

We were notified yesterday afternoon that at least one Big 12 institution had withdrawn its previous consent and was considering legal action. The SEC has stated that to consider an institution for membership, there must be no contractual hindrances to its departure.

Well, that does complicate things a bit, doesn't it?

SEC agrees to accept Texas A&M – as soon as Baylor lets the Aggies goThe "one Big 12 institution" blocking the Aggies at the door is almost certainly Baylor, which has done the math and decided all the equations add up to Baylor being left out in the cold. The writing is on the wall: Texas A&M's defection from the Big 12 to the SEC is set to trigger Oklahoma's defection from the Big 12 to the Pac-12, likely followed by Oklahoma State. With the Aggies and Sooners having successfully flown the coop, Texas — the gold-plated anchor that ultimately held the Big 12 together last summer after pushing the conference to the brink with its dalliance with the Pac-10 — would find itself at the center of a seven-team league that no longer includes either of the Longhorns' major traditional rivals, and no longer seems worthy of their esteemed presence.

Once Texas opts out — most likely for the Pac-12, but possibly for the SEC or Big Ten, or for independence — the bottom half of the Big 12 will be left to scramble for shelter in a cold, cruel, television-driven world that feels little sympathy for the demographic realities of Manhattan, Kansas, and Ames, Iowa. Texas Tech may be able to latch itself to Texas and find a safe landing alongside the Longhorns; Missouri may be attractive enough to earn overtures from the SEC, Big Ten or, at worst, the Big East, which would keep the Tigers in a "Big Six" league that offers an automatic bid to a BCS bowl and a full BCS payout. But Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State, like the have-nots of the old Southwest Conference before them, may very well be staring at demotions to the Mountain West or Conference USA, never to be heard from in the upper echelons again.

So, in the name of self-preservation, Baylor appears to be turning to the last resort of desperate Americans everywhere: The threat of a lawsuit. Which happens to be the one outcome the SEC has specifically cited as a deal-breaker.

The only reason the SEC's pursuit of Texas A&M has made it this far, in fact, is that the Big 12 explicitly agreed not to sue. On Sept. 2, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe sent a letter to SEC commissioner Mike Slive affirming that his membership had agreed not to bring legal action against the SEC for interfering in the existing contract between the Big 12 and Texas A&M — if the deal is done and announced by the end of business hours on Thursday:

Dear Mike:

This is to confirm our discussion yesterday during which I informed you that the Big 12 Conference Board of Directors unanimously authorized me to convey to you and their colleagues in the Southeastern Conference that the Big 12 and its members will not take any legal action for any possible claims against the SEC or its members relating to the departure of Texas A&M University from the Big 12 and the admission of Texas A&M into the SEC; provided, however, that such act by the SEC to admit Texas A&M is publicly confirmed by 5:00 p.m. (CDT) on September 8, 2011.

Such admission of Texas A&M will result in the withdrawal of Texas A&M from the Big 12 Conference effective June 30, 2012. We both agreed it is in the best interests of each of our conferences and our member institutions of higher education to waive any and all legal actions by either conference and its members resulting from admission of Texas A&M into the SEC, as long as such admission is confirmed publicly by September 8, 2011.

That gives the lawyers, oh, about 32 hours before the deadline to either a) Convince Baylor to drop its threats, or b) Convince the SEC that the threat is idle and/or easily batted away if the Bears decide to go through with it. If they can't, Beebe's agreement to let the Aggies go without a fight will expire, and the conference may feel emboldened enough by its legal lifeline to back up Baylor's stand with a little more muscle. Then the gloves come off.

The clock is ticking, gentlemen.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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