Branch doesn’t think A&M will move before hearing
Sunday, August 14, 2011
A Texas legislator doesn’t believe Texas A&M will leave the Big 12 to join the Southeastern Conference before a hearing in front of his committee Tuesday.
State Rep. Dan Branch, the chairman of the Texas House Committee on Higher Education, called a hearing before his committee for Tuesday with Big 12, SEC and Texas A&M officials. Texas A&M soon moved up a meeting of the board of regents from Aug. 22 to Monday that includes an agenda item about conference realignment.
He said it would be “inappropriate” for Texas A&M to switch conferences before the hearing.
“I’m told by A&M officials that it is not an attempt to pre-empt legislators questions and that this will take perhaps a week to two weeks to work out anyway, if a bid is extended,” Branch said.
Meanwhile, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe and the conference’s Board of Directors discussed the future of the conference and Texas A&M’s possible departure during a teleconference Saturday.
“The board strongly conveyed to Texas A&M its unanimous desire that it remain a Big 12 member, and acknowledged its value to the conference,” the Big 12 said in a statement released Saturday night. “The other nine members reaffirmed their long term, unconditional and unequivocal commitments made to each other and the conference last summer.”
The conference’s statement said athletic directors took action approved by the board to adequately address concerns Texas A&M expressed about institutional networks.
Though not specifically mentioned in the statement, Texas A&M has expressed concerns about the Longhorn Network that is scheduled to be launched Aug. 26. The NCAA has already ruled that high school games can’t be broadcast on the University of Texas’ cable network with ESPN.
If Texas A&M does leave the Big 12, the conference would almost certainly search for a replacement to get the league back to at least 10 teams.
“Although the board hopes Texas A&M remains in the conference, the board is prepared to aggressively move forward to explore expansion opportunities,” the Big 12 statement read. “In doing so, the board recognizes the strength of the Big 12 Conference national brand and the opportunity to capitalize on it.”
Branch said his understanding was that the item on the agenda for the Texas A&M regents’ meeting is simply to “authorize the president to enter into negotiations with the SEC if a bid is extended.”
The legislator wants to talk with officials to find out how such a move would impact the state and other Texas schools in the Big 12.
“If a bid has been extended by the SEC at that point, then what I hope to hear from them is the merits of that proposal, why that’s a positive deal for the state of Texas and for Texas A&M University and our student athletes and what are the economics of that,” Branch said. “I also hope to hear the consequences and the effects of such a move on our other Tier I institution, the University of Texas at Austin, and emerging Tier I school Texas Tech University and even Baylor University and the overall effect on the Big 12 Conference.”
Texas A&M considered switching to the SEC last year before staying in the Big 12 after Nebraska and Colorado announced their departures. Now that the Aggies seem to be looking to move again, many are worried that it could jeopardize the future of the Big 12.
One Big 12 official with knowledge of the discussions among the ADs, said there has been no mention of what school the conference might pursue if Texas A&M leaves.
But that same official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, described the situation surrounding the potential A&M departure as changing, with the odds of it happening decreasing — from Friday being a 90-95 percent chance of leaving to “closer to 50-50, and tilting the other way,” he said.
Among the pending issues is the 13-year television deal with Fox Sports worth more than $1 billion that the Big 12, along with Texas A&M, agreed to in April. That contract could potentially be voided if Texas A&M leaves the conference, and that could lead to potential legal claims against the school and possibly the SEC if the Aggies went there.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.