The rumored move of Texas A&M to the SEC has been a fun one to watch for those of us here at MrSEC.com. A year ago, most pundits were projecting Clemson, Georgia Tech or Florida State to the Southeastern Conference. A&M was viewed as a throw-in candidate only if the league could grab Texas.
We saw things differently. In our multi-part series “Expounding on Expansion” — which was about 75 pages if printed out — we looked at expansion from a business sense, not from a fan perspective.
Despite the mutterings of the masses, we knew and stated the following:
1) Academics would play a big role in expansion. (At the league’s spring meetings, we saw SEC presidents prove that football doesn’t rule the roost, despite the money it brings to league coffers.) I recently spoke to someone who served in Penn State’s athletic department during that school’s move to the Big Ten. In his view, academics absolutely drove the bus on that move. Ignore the facts if you wish, but these are schools first and while football is a large part of the equation, it isn’t the only part of the equation. (This piece on academics and politics includes a history lesson on A&M-SEC relations. And here’s a conference-by-conference, school-by-school look at academics.)
2) Distance and travel wouldn’t be the end-all, be-all. Most fans aren’t driving from Gainesville to Fayetteville now, yet the SEC hasn’t collapsed. The Pac-12 stretches from Seattle to Tuscon. The Big East reaches from New York to Chicago to Ft. Worth. And the ACC’s footprint spreads from Boston to Miami. It’s an atlas, not a Bible. Don’t grow too attached to it.
3) The “South” has nothing to do with it. “SEC” is a brand, not a definition. The conference doesn’t have to look inside its own borders to expand. The idea is outward growth — bringing in new TV markets, new recruiting ground, and new fans. Interestingly, I recently read someone who pooh-poohed Missouri as a potential SEC candidate because the state is not football crazy and because it was a border state in the Civil War. Egads. I don’t guess that person realized that he’d just described Kentucky, as well. (Here’s our take on why the SEC should act boldly on the expansion front.)
Last summer, we looked at 18 different schools as expansion candidates. We graded them in several different areas: population base, academics, athletic budget, athletic success, location, etc, etc. (Here’s a look at how we chose our criteria.)
You can read our reviews of each school here. Pay close attention to our review of Texas A&M.
By the numbers, we found that A&M ranked behind only Texas in terms of being a great potential mate for Mike Slive’s league.
Even after Expansionpalooza wound down last June, we wrote in July that A&M to the SEC was just a matter of time. And in January of this past year, we speculated that the Longhorn Network could provide the Aggies a final push eastward toward the SEC West.
Now it seems that the whole world is dancing to the “A&M to the SEC” beat. Well, we say, “welcome.” This story is no more clear today than it was 15 to 18 months ago when we first started writing about it, but at least a few more people are opening their eyes and recognizing that this marriage will eventually come to fruition.
Twitter exploded yesterday with unconfirmed reports that A&M and the SEC were already working out membership details and that the Aggies were prepping to give their Big 12 mates the news by the end of August.
Messageboards were filled with conspiracy theories. OutkickTheCoverage.com bought into one — the idea that Texas has been forcing the likes of Nebraska and Colorado and Texas A&M to make moves with a flurry of DeLoss Dodd’s Jedi mind tricks.
All the talk meant A&M coach Mike Sherman had to dance around the SEC topic at practice yesterday.
We stated yesterday that our sources inside the SEC were mum on the subject. For that reason, we didn’t buy into yesterday’s Twitterlanche.
Turns out, Brent Zwerneman of The San Antonio Express-News and The Houston Chronicle poured some cold water on the hullaballoo courtesy of a “high-ranking A&M official” who said there will be “no imminent announcement or anything of that matter” anytime soon.
So here’s what everyone needs to keep in mind at this point:
1) Slive and Texas A&M officials came close to making a deal last summer — with help from A&M regent Gene Stallings. The groundwork for a deal is in place, you can be sure. So in all likelihood it wouldn’t take much for A&M to land in the SEC.
2) Slive wants no part of blowing up or breaking apart someone else’s league. The SEC nabbed Arkansas from the SWC back in the day, but Slive and the current league presidents don’t want to go that route again. Therefore…
3) The ball is in A&M’s court. When the Big 12 finally breaks apart — and it will — the Aggies will call Slive and Slive will answer with a smile on his face.
That phone call isn’t coming anytime soon. The Big 12 schools will try to hold together for now. They will all experience life in a Longhorn Network world and then make their decisions as to how each wants to react. When that happens, the Aggies will move to their right.
But it’s going to take some time.