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Newly Released Documents Show Why Texas A&M Moved To SEC; Don’t Put ESPN In A Real Good Light

Wanting an inside glimpse at the backroom politics that led Texas A&M to jump to the SEC?  Then thank your lucky stars that The Dallas Morning News filed Freedom of Information Act requests with A&M.

The paper received copies of emails sent and received in recent months by school president R. Bowen Loftin and Aggie AD Bill Byrne.

The documents prove that A&M’s desire to leave the Big 12 grew from its outrage over Texas and ESPN’s Longhorn Network.  Texas’ plan to air high school games and a second Big 12 football game per year on the channel were indeed the major issues, as was noted by many at the time.

Among the documents are an email back-and-forth between Baylor president Kenneth Starr and Loftin.  In an email to his A&M counterpart, Starr pleads with Loftin to remain in the Big 12.

You can also read Loftin’s official letter of application to the SEC — dated September 5th… one day after Loftin’s email exchange with Starr — right here.

“It is my privilege to respectfully submit a letter of application for Texas A&M University to become the 13th member of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the nation’s preeminent collegiate athletic conference.  As you know, we contacted you as we began our initial consideration of changing our conference affiliation in the spring of 2010, with special attention to the “fit” of Texas A&M within the SEC.  Over six weeks ago we renewed our internal discussions and reached out to you to reaffirm your interest in Texas A&M as a potential member.  We have come to the firm conviction that the SEC will provide Texas A&M the national visibility, financial opportunity and conference stability that we see, both now and into the future.  Moreover, we believe that Texas A&M is an exceptional match for the SEC in terms of our academic standing, traditions and culture, our commitment to building champions in the classroom and on the playing fields, and our geographic and demographic contributions.”

For those who’ve forgotten the timeline, in May and June of 2010, the Big Ten set off a wave of realignment across the country.  The SEC and A&M spoke at that time, but when the Big 12 was saved, the two parties wished each other well and moved on… until this July.  Texas’ Longhorn Network pushed Aggie brass to re-open talks with Mike Slive at that point.

The most interesting email was sent by Byrne to — we assume — Loftin on July 21st of this past summer.  It’s titled “Big-12 3rd tier issues or: Death by a thousand cuts.”

This is an internal email and Byrne’s opinions are just that — opinions.  But even considering that his thoughts were biased — he refers to the University of Texas as “tu” — a few points do stand out… and they don’t look good for ESPN or Texas.

The most interesting nuggets:

* Texas wanted to be able to pay conference rivals for the right to put their games with the Longhorns on the school’s network.  That wouldn’t do much for conference unity in the long haul as the peasants of the Big 12 would need to give away games to the King in exchange for a few extra baubles.

* Byrne writes that ESPN “threatened (Texas) Tech” in an effort to put the Red Raiders’ game with Texas on the Longhorn Network.  “(Texas AD) DeLoss (Dodds) acknowledges ESPN rep did that but he stopped them from doing that any more.  Privately Says he can control ESPN, publicly says he can’t.”  That’s a bit of a bombshell.  ESPN threatening a school?  Maybe Mike Leach isn’t so crazy when he suggests that the network — an SEC partner — blackballed him at Maryland last offseason.

* Here’s another Byrne note on ESPN: “ESPN pushing hard to help tu recruit high school prospects.  They along with tu lobbying NCAA hard to get interp that permits HS games on LHN.”  Whether the part about helping recruit kids to Texas was fact or fiction, Byrne’s words are now out there for the world — and ESPN — to see.  Did we mention that the network is an SEC partner?  Fun.

* “We need a backup plan.  SEC?  PAC-12?  Bigger-10?” Byrne wrote.

Turns out the SEC was the backup plan.  And now we know why A&M felt such a plan was needed in the first place.

 


22 comments
MissouriTarheel
MissouriTarheel

Basically, this is the common thread as to why Missouri is also leaving the Big-12. In hind sight, the Big 8 should have mandated an equal arrangement before expanding to the Big-12... but that didn't happen. Its possible that Texas will end up being independent as they are quickly running out of kids that don't want to play in their sandlot. Thank you, SEC for taking aTm and MU into the fold... and as a high school referee in Missouri, I can verify that Mizzou is a good fit with the SEC... as the small towns in SE Missouri really have a southern flavor and an absolute love for football.

Stan
Stan

ESPN has lost all journalistic integrity when it comes to conference realignment. How can they report on it when they are the driving force behind it?

David
David

Well (I know the story was a few days old by now), but the Dallas Morning News moved all it's pages of letters (that or got rid of them).

Either way, other than the first link, those other in-story links just bring up a "the page you are looking for has moved or is no longer available" page

MissouriAlum
MissouriAlum

Hi John. I think we’re all interested in quality information. Could you please provide specific links to the information you mention for more detailed scrutiny? Also, with all due respect and IMHO, I find this instance of attempted story marginalization while simultaneously promoting another site in poor taste.

While many have speculated regarding these generalities (with some substance behind that speculation), I found this new information injection (paired with specific supportive links) brought more specific tangibility to those generalities. I certainly appreciate this story linking to all of the new relevant data which I haven’t seen anywhere else in terms of linked to content and detail expansion. You have to think Missouri’s concerns closely mirrored this and as a proud University of Missouri alum, I’m happy our institution is almost fully away from this abject dysfunction and very excited (and appreciative!) about joining our new conference, the SEC.

Mr. Pennington, thank you very much for all of your quality efforts

John
John

A&M sick of Texas, ESPN protecting their television contracts, complicated by the fact that ESPN is in bed with LHN, Big 12, and SEC. Check out outkickthecoverage.com months ago. Moving along, nothing to see here.

StL
StL

Dodds thought that A&M would come along for the ride to the Pac 10 in 2010. Tech wasn't the choice at that point.

tradeassociation
tradeassociation

Color me skeptical. If you know that a freedom of information type request - or a tortious interference lawsuit - is likely this is the way to generate helpful material. Hence the laying out of the grievances with Texas and ESPN. And also the rather gratuitous “We need a backup plan. SEC? PAC-12? Bigger-10?” Which is funny, because the Pac-12 and Big 10 had no interest in A&M. If you are exploring options for what is best for your athletics department, even mentioning the Pac-12 and Big 10 is absurd. But if you are attempting to make the case for any POTENTIAL lawsuit that you had EVERY INTENTION of honoring the $1.3 billion TV contract before ESPN and Texas drove you away, then it suits those purposes I guess. IMHO, this email makes me even more convinced that there was a reason why A&M's acceptance to the SEC was conditional at first, and only became official after it became clear that those TV contracts would be honored so long as Oklahoma and Texas stayed put (which they did). And the way that the Pac-12 treated Oklahoma and Texas with kid gloves ... they were no more interested in getting sued than the SEC was. I'm just glad that the SEC got adding their 2 Big 12 teams out of the way before 2017 when this mess will flare up again. At that point Texas, Oklahoma and whoever will still have to deal with whatever is left on those ESPN contracts to the Baylors, Iowa States, Kansas States (and probably TCUs and West Virginias!) that are going to be left behind, but it won't be the problem of the SEC.

Mike
Mike

Texass needs all the help they can get from ESPN. Texass has been a lackluster brand name for years and will continue to be so. Texass brought this on with their holier-than-thou attitude and Texass will have to live with the consequences. Watch how Kansas State demolishes Texass this weekend.

J Douglas
J Douglas

Byrne has had a burr under his saddle about Texas since his days at Nebraska. I suspect most of that is in the email is Byrne's opinion or is based on hearsay. All that being said, ESPN is driving what programming appears on the LHN, but will almost certainly put the brakes on anything that could violate NCAA rules and get both ESPN and Texas in trouble.

JarrenBlake
JarrenBlake

Nothing really new. Its everything that everyone has suspected and the ESPN strongarm bit was my number one reason as to why aTm was getting out of dodge. Ultimately ESPN destablized the group with their actions and interests in one school over the collective(Real or percieved) however i do feel that they also hold enough control in other conferences to keep Oklahoma and Texas in place for now. However they control the Big12 utterly.

If they end the LHN deal then I would expect that to effectively end that conference, hence Mizzou jumping ship. Either the LHN does well and you have to live with that and possible a Oklahoma clone of it eating your 3rd teir games. Or it bombs and ESPN pull the plug, in which case UT will be openly looking for a new conference.

Statesman
Statesman

Wow this gives credibility to the BC-AD when he talked about ESPN'S role in getting Syracuse & Pitt to join the ACC. Was ESPN punishing The Big East for turning down the contract offer? Was this ESPN's way of devaluing the Big East to Fox, while forcing the Big East back to ESPN for fewer dollars. ESPN has to be stopped!! How bout OCCUPY-ESPN(lol).

Dave
Dave

His most interesting comments were the speculation surrounding ESPN's motivation to "overpay" Texas for their 3rd tier product. He seems to feel ESPN created a vested interest for itself to build Texas into a preeminent brand and program, even at the expense of other B12 programs. The stuff about Beebe interpreting the Fox contract to allow Fox to take as many games as they wanted and trade them to ESPN also struck me.

Apparently, ESPN and Fox made it quite clear that the rest of the B12 schools were living in Texas' world and that they'd better learn to deal with it.

ESPN remains an SEC partner, but at this point, it does not have the sort of individual deal with a school which would put those business interests into conflict. I wonder if an SEC Network isn't in part a preemptive move now to preclude a similar splintering in the SEC moving forward.

Ron
Ron

And this is why the Big East won't lose it's automatic BCS bid - ESPN will not let that occur in fear that the tv network will be exposed.

GeoffDawg
GeoffDawg

Wow, a real smoking gun corroborating what everyone's suspected about ESPN for years.

gatormoss
gatormoss

MrSEC stated, "The paper received copies of emails sent and received in recent months by school president R. Bowen Loftin and Aggie AD Bill Byrne." Basically substantiating his thorough coverage on SEC realignment since last year. Follow up information like emails substantiating previous coverage is prudent, educational and interesting. Coverage on MrSEC has been accurate and 1st almost on all fronts on realignment. Why would you come over here and promote your .com. No thank you.

Andy
Andy

Tech was part of the deal. Pac-10 was going to take Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., and Texas. In this deal, Utah was left out. In fact, when Texas A&M appeared to be bolting towards the SEC, the Pac-10 was going to replace their vacancy with Kansas. However,the deal collapsed when Beebe pulled a rabbit out of his hat and more tv money.

Andy
Andy

Not true that the Pac-10 and Big 10 had no interest in Texas A&M. The Pac-16 was a done deal in 2010 unti A&M leaned towards the SEC. A&M told the Pac-10 it would not be headed west and that is when the deal unraveled.

The Big 10 wasn't going to take A&M alone, but would take them if they came with Texas. A&M's academics, market size, etc. fit well. Geography doesn't fit unless there are more schools added in the sunbelt. The Big 10 wanted a presence in the sunbelt because all future population growth is coming from that region of the country. The demographic shift in favor of the SEC will be huge over the next 30 years.

Old Sarge
Old Sarge

I remember it being reported after a Big 12 meeting that tech was being "pushed" towards letting ESPN put its game on the LHN, and I also remember Dodds making a statement about ESPN being the driving force towards HS recruits that tu was after on the LHN. So this is not new news by any means. Anyone following the acts of tu, LHN, and ESPN already knew these things.

Rob
Rob

Would the SEC "splinter" like the Big 12? I don't see it, but what do I know?

I really hope we do create our own SEC network. I didn't like the deal with ESPN when it was signed and I like it even less now. You have to think it's only a matter of time.

TampaTiger87
TampaTiger87

Good point, but I still think that ESPN was the culprit in sending Syracuse & Pitt to the ACC....after The Big East declined ESPN TV offer ( & telling them they were going to seek open bids).

Walter
Walter

It confirms things we've heard, and or suspected. But to see Bill Byrne making those statements in an email he didn't intend to be for public consumption certainly solidifies some of the things. Also hearing from Byrne about what Dodds was saying behind closed doors was a little enlightening imo.

Also while Dan Beebe was often called a puppet of Dodds by his detractors, it's interesting to read Byrne's speculation that he had quietly made concessions to Fox that he hadn't informed the membership about in order to pull off the promises he made the previous year.

Aaron
Aaron

Exactly so & the Boston College AD let the cat out of the bag when he said ESPN was behind that. If ESPN took the Big Easts tv money away (the BCS bid) then it would open them up to liability from the Big East.

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