Last evening, Missouri and Texas A&M enjoyed a little Southern hospitality from the folks in Atlanta. According to Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, officials from both schools were surprised by the turnout of “nearly 1,000″ Aggie and Tiger fans who showed up at Buckhead’s JW Marriott for the event.
“This is like walking into a bowl game,” A&M’s Kevin Sumlin said. “Or the Final Four.”
“(Joining the SEC) is huge for our fans,” Mizzou’s Gary Pinkel said. “It’s been good for ticket sales, and it’s been very, very good for recruiting… Recruiting in the SEC has been nothing but positive for us. Everyone believes the SEC plays the best football, and to high school kids there’s no question who’s the best… This leagues is like the NFL — every week you’ve got to play well.”
Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said his school’s move to the SEC goes further than just football:
“We haven’t had a good national stage so one of the drivers for me was the recognition that the SEC provides a lens through which the world can see Texas A&M, not simply for athletics, but for its many dimensions. We think this is going to be a great boost for the brand, if you will, for Texas A&M and puts us on a national stage like we haven’t been before…
The SEC has always been a conference where everybody shared equally and everybody had the same voice. That wasn’t always the case in the Big 12 or before it, the Southwest Conference. We find this to be the way to achieve long-term stability. The SEC is an old conference and it’s going to be around a long time longer.”
Even SEC vets like Georgia president Michael Adams and commissioner Mike Slive walked away impressed by the turnout.
“They’re amazed… I’m amazed,” said Adams. “What a turnout said the commissioner,” who invited the Aggies and Tigers on hand to travel and experience more SEC fever at road stops across the league:
“What you’re seeing tonight is the kind of pride and passion — the pride and the passion — shared by the fellow members of the SEC. And we hope that each of you will visit the traditions on other SEC campuses in the coming years and experience first hand a Saturday between the hedges, a night under the lights in Baton Rouge, a game in The Swamp and a visit to the Grove, just to name a few.
We look forward to reliving old rivalries and developing new ones in the years ahead.”
Those games will come soon enough. They will inevitably be followed by the name-calling, the conspiracy theories, and the hate that goes with sharing an athletic conference with rivals. But for now, MU and A&M officials and fans continue to enjoy a warm reception into their new league. And behind the scenes, they’ve already found that the SEC has more of an arm-in-arm spirit than the conference they just left behind.
UPDATE — Eric SanInocencio has posted a photo gallery from last night’s party at the SEC’s official website.