Just when it seemed that the conference expansion race (the one no one says they want) was beginning to stall a bit, Monday erupted in rumors, reports, and even a few comments from SEC commissioner Mike Slive.
We’ll try to summarize and simplify everything that’s out there regarding Texas A&M, the SEC, and everybody else. But these things change pretty quickly. By the time you read this, the University of the Ukraine could be headed to the SEC West.
1. Slive opened up about his conference’s plans while at a speaking engagement in Birmingham last night. Not only did he take the unusual step of chatting about expansion, but he also had the story posted on the SEC’s official website. So this was no off-the-cuff remark misinterpreted by some blogging stooge (you know, like us). As a matter of fact, the details of Slive’s speech were posted on SECSports.com before the speech was even given. What Slive said… he wanted all to know. And here’s what he said:
“In the 78-year history of the SEC, the conference had accepted the membership applications of only two institutions — Arkansas and South Carolina. Texas A&M is now the third. We remain optimistic that Texas A&M will be a member of the SEC and have started to look at schedules for 2012-13 involving 13 teams.
As I said over the past year or so, the SEC has had no particular interest in expansion. We were, and are, happy with 12 teams. If Texas A&M’s president, Dr. Bowen Loftin, had not called me in late July, we had no plans to explore adding an institution.
However, when President Loftin called we became interested. Texas A&M is an outstanding academic institution with an exceptional athletic program, passionate fans and wonderful traditions. While the SEC wasn’t think about expansion, it was impossible not to be interested in Texas A&M. As you can see from the unanimous vote of our twelve presidents/chancellors, we would very much like to have Texas A&M as a member of our conference.
When Texas A&M joins our conference, we don’t have immediate plans for a 14th member. We aren’t thinking in terms of numbers. We think about the strength of the SEC and the attractiveness of Texas A&M as an institution.”
Our many takes on these comments:
* What a clear message to A&M fans that the SEC hasn’t forgotten about them. Only the most paranoid Aggie-backers were becoming angry with the conference for not zipping through Baylor’s legal roadblocks, but this should let that crew know that Slive’s league is merely doing its due diligence.
* What a clear message to Baylor — and any judges who may have to listen to a BU court case — that the SEC simply answered its phone when A&M called back in July. Translation (for the thousandth time): “We didn’t call them, they called us.”
* Tip of the cap to Clay Travis who claimed weeks ago that the SEC would be willing to stick at 13 schools if need be. Numerous SEC sources — some on the record — said otherwise. “If we grab 13, we’ll need to grab 14, too” was the message. Many of us with our own SEC sources said the same thing — “the goal is 14.” But now the commish himself is saying 13 isn’t unlucky in his eyes…
* That said, we still believe the SEC was hoping that a good “get” would dial up the league offices just as A&M did. But most of the schools not named A&M and Oklahoma are trying to maintain the status quo. That limited the SEC options and left Slive and company to accept the idea of 13 schools. You can bet, however, that the SEC would have loved for Virginia Tech or North Carolina to have asked for an application. Fourteen schools would have been the best possible scenario and that was — from what we’ve been told by multiple SEC sources — the unstated but obvious initial goal.
* We’ll tip a cap toward ourselves for pointing out in great detail last summer that A&M was a perfect fit for the SEC. In our “Expounding on Expansion” research piece, we pointed out that A&M would be a quality stand-alone addition and not just a “We’ll take ‘em if we can get Texas” throw-in candidate. For nearly two years now we’ve detailed how Texas A&M and the SEC have flirted with one another dating all the way back to the mid-80s. We’ve told you how serious things got when LSU AD Joe Dean agreed to sponsor an A&M entry into the SEC after discussions with A&M AD John David Crow in the late-80s. And last summer — just as the Big 12 was announcing its salvation — we stated flat out that A&M would eventually be a member of the SEC. That all seems quite obvious now. It wasn’t at the time (and we have the nasty emails to prove it). So we’ll take a bow along with the aforementioned Travis and a few other blind squirrels across the globe.
* A 13-school SEC is far from ideal. Other leagues have thrived with an odd number of schools, but not when divided into divisions for the purposes of holding a league championship game in football. If A&M and Oklahoma set off realignment armageddon, we still believe there’s the potential for a 14th institution to join the SEC in time for the 2012-13 season.
And now, more scuttlebutt and hearsay on the expansion front:
2. Baylor president Kenneth Starr has penned yet another op-ed piece angling for the resuscitation of the Big 12. This time his work appears in The Houston Chronicle. In it, he makes it clear that there’s just somethin’ special about Texas football! (Just not special enough to have earned Houston, Rice, SMU and TCU slots in the Big 12 when Baylor dumped them in 1996, mind you.)
3. Let’s now look toward Oklahoma. If the Sooners choose to stay in the Big 12, that league will likely survive. But according to Orangebloods.com, a source “close to OU’s administration” says the school will apply for Pac-12 membership by the end of the month and Oklahoma State will follow soon after.
4. It was also reported Monday that officials from Oklahoma and the University of Texas met over the weekend to discuss their future plans. (While UT officials want to keep their Longhorn Network intact, they have reportedly offered to split all Tier I Big 12 television revenue evenly with their league-mates in order to save the Big 12. OU officials are believed to be past the point of turning back, however.) One Oklahoma source told The Oklahoman: “Everybody’s sitting around right now… the shoe has to drop at A&M before anything goes on.”
5. While an OU source is saying his school will wait on A&M to make a move, an A&M source tells The Houston Chronicle that “the SEC and the Aggies will wait and see what happens on the Oklahoma front.” No shock there. We wrote on Monday that OU/Pac-12 and A&M/SEC will likely find themselves locked in a staring contest for a bit longer.
6. Andy Staples of SI.com likens the current situation to a game of chicken.
7. The board of regents at Oklahoma has scheduled a meeting for September 19th (next Monday) and it’s expected that conference realignment will be a main topic.
8. If the Longhorns are serious about convincing Oklahoma to stick around the Big 12, this writer believes the school should end its partnership with ESPN. (Yeah. That’ll happen.)
9. Meanwhile, according to The Austin American-Statesman, Texas has “three viable realignment options.” If the Big 12 goes bye-bye, those options include the ACC (which might divide into four four-team pods), the Pac-12 (which would also require a number of issues to be worked out), or independence (which UT claims it does not want).
(On a sidenote, “a well-placed source at a Big 12 school” told The Statesman that “The Big 12′s done… Oklahoma wasn’t open to creating Big 12 stability.”)
10. One thing’s for sure: Texas is no longer operating from a position of strength. Looks like UT’s done overplayed its hand.