COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M University today officially notified the Big 12 Conference that the institution will submit an application to join another athletic conference. Should this application be accepted, Texas A&M will end its membership in the Big 12 Conference effective June 30, 2012.
"After much thought and consideration, and pursuant to the action of the (Texas A&M University System) Board of Regents authorizing me to take action related to Texas A&M University's athletic conference alignment, I have determined it is in the best interest of Texas A&M to make application to join another athletic conference," President R. Bowen Loftin wrote to Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe in the letter dated August 31, 2011.
"We appreciate the Big 12's willingness to engage in a dialogue to end our relationship through a mutually agreeable settlement," Loftin added. "We, too, desire that this process be as amicable and prompt as possible and result in a resolution of all outstanding issues, including mutual waivers by Texas A&M and the conference on behalf of all the remaining members."
That is, if "another conference" will have them. The conference in question, of course, is the SEC, which has publicly kept A&M at arm's length until its divorce from the Big 12 is final. Now that the Aggies have made their intentions known to the world, we'll see if the new object of their affection warms up a bit.
Come to think of it, the last 16 years for A&M weren't really all that fun. For all the visions of doom for the Aggies' prospects in the big, bad SEC, it's not like they've been burning a path of destruction through the Big 12. They haven't won a conference championship since 1998, the year Mack Brown arrived to resurrect Texas, or a South Division title since 1999, the year Bob Stoops began rebuilding Oklahoma. With the old regional powers restored to their traditional glory, A&M spent the subsequent 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 season's abrupt midseason turnaround, A&M had gone a full decade since its last top-25 finish in the final polls.
Overblown reputations aside, the Aggies aren't likely to find the going that much tougher in the SEC, especially if they continue their upward trajectory under coach Mike Sherman. On the heels of the Big 12's lucrative new television contract with Fox, they're not likely to find it that much more profitable, either. What they will find is a league that shares its spoils equally with every member (the Big 12 notoriously divvies the pie to give bigger slices to schools that generate more) 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, it's parity.
With A&M's departure, it may soon be able to add "existence" to that list. The Big 12 has already formed a committee to begin its search for a replacement for the Aggies, but the fact is the pickings for a quality addition are slim. And with only nine members — more than half of which were fully prepared to the leave the conference last summer, in more than one direction — the entire operation looks as wobbly as a Jenga tower. Now that A&M has split, the next piece to go could bring the entire operation down, and everyone knows it. They also know, for their own sake, that they'd much rather be that piece than pray for a soft landing if one of the others gets pulled out first.
But that's a relatively distant question. Right now, the immediate questions are this: How long does the SEC take to respond to A&M's overtures? If the answer is a yes, can we assume a 14th member is hot on the Aggies' heels? Or that a 14th member is already in the fold? And can we put all of this off until January so we can actually, you know, enjoy the games that are about to start?