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Big 12 Wants Texas A&M To Stay, But Is It Prepared To Do What It Must To Hold League Together?

After a flurry of news reporting that Texas A&M was on its way to the Southeastern Conference and discontinuing its 15-year relationship as a member of the Big 12, today has been the proverbial calm before the storm.

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe
Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe

Sources within the Big 12 say the conference was caught by surprise to learn that officials at Texas A&M were deep into discussions with the Southeastern Conference and wanted out of the Big 12.

If that's true, then you've got to wonder how stable is the Big 12 Conference, in real terms, and is there really the solidarity around the league that the commissioner's office keeps reinforcing to us every time the subject comes up. Commissioner Dan Beebe has been telling us since Nebraska and Colorado formally exited the conference this summer that the remaining ten schools in the league are as solid as ever and fully committed to the long-term success of the Big 12 and its member institutions.

That same message was delivered Saturday afternoon after a series of conference calls between Beebe and the athletic directors and presidents of all of the Big 12 member schools with the exception of officials from Texas A&M.

Shortly after those ad hoc conversations were held, the Big 12 board of directors issued the following statement in response to all of the rumors swirling around Texas A&M: "The other nine members reaffirmed their long-term unconditional and unequivocal commitments made to each other and the Conference last summer. Although the Board hopes Texas A&M remains in the Conference, the Board is prepared to aggressively move forward to explore expansion opportunities.

"In doing so," the statement said, "the Board recognizes the strength of the Big 12 conference's national brand and the opportunity to capitalize on it."

Not a particularly surprising or soothing response, but it is surprising why it took Big 12 officials to try to get out in front of this story. Even though the leadership at each of the ten remaining Big 12 institutions stood strong together and pledged their unconditional commitment to the future of the conference following Nebraska and Colorado's decisions last summer to pull out of the Big 12, there were undercurrents even then about how committed and satisfied all of the schools really were, or was it simply the politically correct thing to say until something better came along.

Many people place most of the blame for the continuous shock waves that keep all of the talk about superconferences alive and smouldering, and making sure you are aligned with the right conference when the consolidation floodgates finally give way and the college football world as we know it turns into a nationwide panic party with no discernible geographic boundaries and no concern for sustaining natural rivalries, on the University of Texas.

Texas gets everything it wants and has too much power, you hear from the other schools in the conference. After all, that's why Nebraska left and why Texas A&M is allegedly making plans to go elsewhere. Sounds more like whiny crybabies to me because they can't stand operating or playing in the shadow of the great almighty Texas. As if running away from this issue in the Big 12 will preclude the departing schools from ever encountering this situation again in their new conferences.

You also hear that UT officials don't really care what happens to the Big 12 Conference because Texas is big enough and so well-resourced that it could become independent and never have to look back. When you really stop and think, however, about the benefits and risks of an independent strategy and status for its athletic programs, it doesn't make a lot of sense for Texas to do something like that.

More to the contrary. Texas probably has the most to lose if the Big 12 were to be blown apart. Not that the Longhorns couldn't be welcomed into another major conference, but at the moment I don't see their motives and actions to be as narcissistic in nature as others want to characterize them. It is in Texas' best interest to keep the Big 12 brand strong nationally, academically as well as on the athletic field.

The ship may already have sailed regarding Texas A&M future status as a member of the Big 12, but there are still some fundamental steps to be taken that may not be as smooth as everyone seems to anticipate. The Texas A&M board of regents is scheduled to meet on Monday afternoon to discuss the subject of discontinuing the school's 15-year relationship with the Big 12. There probably isn't going to be much opposition at that meeting, but then the SEC still has to sign off on the deal and decide whether to expand by one, two or four schools from its present size of 12. The SEC league presidents were planning a conference call today to discuss expansion.

The big hurdle, in my view, is a hearing called by the Texas House Committee for Higher Education and set to convene on Tuesday. The Big 12's Beebe and SEC commissioner Mike Silva are expected to testify at the hearing. You really can't be too sure about how the legislators participating in this special hearing will lean on the issue. But I can't believe that they will be too happy about breaking up the two biggest universities in the state of Texas, not to mention what most likely would be the end of the longtime rivalry between the Longhorns and the Aggies.

While news about the imminent move by Texas A&M to the SEC was fast-moving and ubiquitous all-day Saturday, things have slowed down considerably in the last 24 hours. Think of it, perhaps, as the calm before the storm. Likewise, unconfirmed reports that Missouri would follow Texas A&M to the SEC not only are being emphatically denied by athletic director Mike Alden and other Mizzou officials, but sports media outside of the Kansas City area have shifted their heavy speculation and chatter to other potential conference defections (i.e., Florida State or Clemson moving from the ACC to the SEC to form a 14-team conference).

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin acknowledged to SEC officials that A&M regretted not joining the SEC a year ago when the Big 12 first learned that Nebraska and Colorado were leaving for the Big Ten and Pac-12, respectively.