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.