SEC sticking with 12 teams for now; A&M still in Big 12

The Southeastern Conference is staying just as it is — for now. However, the game of major college conference realignment appears far from finished. University of Florida president Bernie Machen, the chairman of the league’s presidents and chancellors committee, said the group met Sunday and “reaffirmed our satisfaction with the present 12 institutional alignment.” Machen said no action was taken regarding Texas A&M or any other schools. He didn’t, however, close the door on change.

“We recognize, however, that future conditions may make it advantageous to expand the number of institutions in the league,” Machen said in a statement. “We discussed criteria and process associated with expansion.”

The Aggies reportedly are looking to leave the Big 12. The Texas A&M System board of regents is to meet today, and among the items on the agenda is conference alignment.

A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement Sunday there is “a considerable amount of misinformation” regarding the school and the SEC. Loftin said he did not participate in Sunday’s meeting with the SEC, but is authorized by the regents to “take all actions related to athletic conference alignment.”

The school’s first-preference destination appears to have been the SEC. Arkansas Chancellor Dave Gearhart said that much was made clear at the SEC meeting Sunday.

“(Texas A&M) did approach the SEC, not the other way around,” Gearhart said. “I’m not really sure of all the reasons for that. I’m sure that there’s a lot of speculation on behalf of a lot of people that what caused them to do that.

“The bottom line is they did approach the SEC.”

Gearhart said the Aggies were among a number of topics discussed at the SEC meeting in Atlanta.

“It was really an open discussion, not just about A&M but about the future of the conference and the future of other conferences,” Gearhart said. “We did talk about Texas A&M. It’s a great university, a great place. But I think the decision was to make no decision at this particular time.”

Gearhart said the SEC presidents and chancellors are “very comfortable” with the 12-team alignment, financially and competitively. But he, too, said they wouldn’t rule out expansion.

“If some other conference is going to make changes, it behooves us to take a look at that,” Gearhart said.

He added: “I think everybody will sort of be watching what happens in Texas and what they do.”

Gearhart said he didn’t come away from the meeting with any clearer idea of what form future conferences might take. He said talk of four “super conferences” was just that — talk.

As for how any future alignment would affect the SEC, or if the conference would actively look to add schools, Gearhart pointed to the league’s history of success and his confidence in commissioner Mike Slive.

“If you look at what the member institutions have won on the gridiron and all sports, for that matter, we’ve done very, very well,” Gearhart said.

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 conference call 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 Saturday night.

Texas 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. Branch had said it would be “inappropriate” for Texas A&M to switch conferences before the hearing.

The Aggies’ football team went about business as usual Sunday with a two-hour morning practice indoors.

Coach Mike Sherman has said he’s not in the loop on developments involving the SEC. He was not available for comment after Sunday’s first workout, but said Saturday he and his team are concentrating solely on the Sept. 4 opener against SMU.

The school said athletic director Bill Byrne was traveling back from France and also was not available.

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