SEC welcomes Aggies
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive welcomed Texas A&M as the 13th member of the league Monday and said he doesn’t expect to add another team before the Aggies begin play next season.
The SEC announced Sunday that Texas A&M would leave the Big 12 to join the conference next July and will compete in all sports for the 2012-13 academic year. The Aggies are the first newcomers since South Carolina and Arkansas joined the conference in 1992.
In an event complete with Texas A&M’s band, yell leaders, collie mascot Reveille and hundreds of fans, the Aggies ushered in a new era with a pep rally-type celebration of the move.
Slive and Florida president Bernie Machen, chairman of the SEC leaders, took turns on a stage decorated with maroon and white balloons and adorned with A&M’s national championship trophies from various sports as well as an SEC logo that included the Aggies.
Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin and Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne addressed the crowd and raved about their excitement in joining the SEC.
Slive said the SEC wasn’t looking to expand, but A&M was too attractive of an option to ignore.
“We were very happy at 12,” Slive said. “When Texas A&M came to us and indicated their interest in joining the SEC, we said to ourselves: ‘That is a great institution, academically, athletically, culturally and in every way, and a real fit.’ So we decided even though we were content with 12, that we had the opportunity to have Texas A&M as part of the SEC was something that we just did not want to give up.”
Slive acknowledged scheduling a 13-team league will be difficult, but said it wouldn’t expand just to make things easier.
SEC presidents and chancellors voted unanimously for the move Sept. 6, but the official announcement was delayed because of the possibility of legal action from Baylor and other members.
Slive said that fear was quelled when Oklahoma decided it would stay in the Big 12 and keep the remaining nine teams together. The SEC was given no assurances schools would not take legal action, but decided Oklahoma’s decision was enough to go ahead with A&M’s admission into the conference.
Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech looked into defecting to the Pac-12, but the league decided not to expand this year.
That left the remaining schools in the Big 12 in need of a plan to save the conference. The nine remaining schools agreed last week to give a six-year grant of their first- and second-tier television rights to the Big 12. That means all revenue from the top television games — shown currently on networks owned by ABC/ESPN and Fox — would continue to go to the Big 12 even if a school bolts to another league, according to Oklahoma president David Boren. It’s an agreement that hasn’t been finalized.
The Big 12 got rid of commissioner Dan Beebe last week and replaced him with former Big Eight commissioner Chuck Neinas on an interim basis in a move many thought was necessary to save the league.
Loftin said Texas A&M is still in the process of negotiating its buyout fee to leave the Big 12.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said he was disappointed in the departure of A&M.
Now that the Aggies’ move to the SEC is official, there is renewed concern about the future of their annual football game with Texas, now held on Thanksgiving night.
The teams first met in football in 1894 and the rivalry is one of the oldest and most spirited in college football. It’s a highlight of the season in the state and a tradition those in Texas and beyond would hate to lose.
Loftin believes it can continue.
“We’ve been assured by the conference commissioner that we’d be able to do this if our partner (Texas) wants to do so,” he said.
Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman wants to keep it going, as well.
“It would be sad to see that end,” he said. “I understand the logistics of it all. It may not bode well in the current system, but it certainly is a game that people year in and year out mark their calendar for that ball game. It’ll be a passing that will be sad, but new rivalries come up and you start to circle other games on the calendar, I guess.”
Slive said he, too, hopes the game can continue and that it will keep its spot on Thanksgiving.
“I don’t want to pre-empt what our transition team might come up with, but speaking personally and not being the one that’s going to work on that schedule, I certainly would like to see that happen,” he said.
Texas coach Mack Brown said athletic director DeLoss Dodds would have to answer questions about the future of the game, but did say as a fan he’s always loved rivalry games. But, he said, changes in conference affiliation, force difficult decisions to be made about such matchups.
“Those things are important, but I think that what’s happened now is that with all the conference realignment talk over the last couple years that universities are needing to do what’s best for them,” Brown said. “Obviously in some cases — you go back to the Nebraska-Oklahoma game — was a huge rival game that I grew up on, as well. Used to love that game and then coached in that game and it was really important to both states. And now they no longer play.”
“So, I think it’s forcing administrators to look at what’s best for their universities, and it may not always be best to continue some of those rival games.”