The fact that the mightier-than-thou Southeastern Conference, following a meeting held Sunday between representatives of its 12 member institutions, chose not to take any action on potential conference expansion and leave things as they are for the time being is not a formal or final turn down of A&M's attempt to become a member of the SEC, which many consider to be the country's premier college conference.
It is easy to get ahead of ourselves as we attempt to assess and draw conclusions from every move and action connected with the nearly week-old story surrounding Texas A&M's public posturing of where the school's enormous ego and appetite for higher visibility and financial redemption can best be served. The danger is in oversimplifying or prematurely shortening the process without realizing that there are required protocols and procedural and political considerations that should be allowed to run their course before it is safe or realistic to draw definitive conclusions.
As a result of SEC officials making it known that they are not interested at this time in making any changes to the size of the conference, sports tweets and public speculation ran rampant again on Sunday and Monday declaring that the SEC had spurned Texas A&M and left the Big 12 school swinging in the breeze similar, they said, to what happened to Missouri last year after making such a big deal publically about wanting to join the Big Ten Conference and then having the Big Ten decide to limit immediate expansion plans to just one team (Nebraska).
This is not the way things happened at all, but it just goes to show how misinformation and speculation can snowball in our new 24/7 world of instant, around- the-world communication. Despite what you've read or heard about Texas A&M, Florida State, Missouri or any other combination of teams reaching out and talking with SEC officials about becoming new members of that conference, the fact is, none of those teams has formally applied to the SEC for admittance. In order to be accepted or denied admittance to the conference, the standard operating procedure calls for the interested institution to file a formal application with SEC headquarters seeking admission.
Only then would be SEC, or any other conference, be in the position to specifically rule on the request. Because this fundamental procedural requirement has not happened, the umbrella statement released by the SEC on Sunday should not have been a surprise to anybody. The way the language in the statement was nuanced, however, SEC officials left it open as to the possibility, even the probability, that things could change in the future.
"We recognize that future conditions may make it advantageous to expand the number of institutions in the league," was the language attributed to University of Florida president Bernie Machen, chairman of the SEC's presidents and chancellors committees, in the follow-up statement from the SEC following Sunday's emergency meeting of league officials. Changing conditions could easily mean something as simple as receiving a fomal application for admission.
Let's review the chain of events thus far in this situation: Governor and declared Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry of Texas and others a week ago acknowledged that talks were being held between Texas A&M officials and representatives of the SEC. The SEC presidents and chancellors committee met Sunday and said the SEC was not interested in expansion at this time, but wouldn't rule it out for the future. On Monday, the Texas A&M Board of Regents granted A&M president R. Bowen Loftin the authority to take whatever action he deemed necessary and to act in the best interest of the university regarding realignment, including breaking from the Big 12.
A scheduled meeting of the Texas House Committee on Higher Education was postponed indefinitely after the actions taken, and not taken, by the SEC and the A&M Board of Regents.
So where does this leave Texas A&M? Certainly not in the good graces of the nine other member schools in the Big 12. While there is obviously much individual and collective animosity around the conference regarding the actions being taken by Texas A&M, it also is becoming apparent that the league's best option is to hold the conference together and preserve the necessary member strength that Fox Sports wants to see for its new $1.17 billion, 13-year cable contract signed recently with the Big 12.
It would be hard to believe that Texas A&M will now plead mea culpa and plod merrily along as if nothing had happened. A&M is obviously unhappy with its current league alliance and, like someone looking for a new job, is interested in seeking something better. Even if for some reason Texas A&M decides to stay put, what's to keep one or more of the other nine teams from being the next to try to line up with another conference before it's too late.
The Big 12 Board of Directors, meeting over last weekend, said it is "prepared to aggressively move forward to explore expansion opportunities." There has been speculation that the Big 12 would reach out to BYU, TCU, Louisville and Houston as prospective candidates to join the Big 12. If Texas A&M does, in fact, leave the Big 12, which admittedly is still a huge question mark, the task of finding the right partner to bring in after the fact will become more arduous because of mounting questions about the Big 12's future.
There are more than a few experts saying that if Texas A&M files a formal application to join the SEC that conference officials of that league act on the application in a positive way. But I still think the largest hurdle in all of this is going to be what the Texas state legislators have to say on the issue. It's important to note that the Texas House Committee on Higher Education postponed its scheduled meeting to discuss the issue; the meeting was not cancelled. According to one Texas economist, the state would stand to lose more than 3,000 jobs and an estimated $200 million were Texas A&M to exit the Big 12. That alone would seem, to me, to cause some pause on the part of the Texas legislators.
The top officials at Kansas State and Missouri have stated publicly that they think the Big 12 will be fine going forward, despite what Texas A&M does. Oklahoma State's biggest supporter, T. Boone Pickens, also expressed optimism about the latest developments, telling the media that he believes the Big 12 will survive the latest conference realignment threats. "They've (Texas A&M) got three weeks to come to their senses," Pickens said. "I think they'll stay with the conference."
An anonymous caller to The Kansas City Star "Voices" line had this to say: "The Big 12 minus two needs to become proactive instead of inactive."
In all of the uncertainty around the renewal of realignment discussions in the Big 12 and around the country, one thing is very certain: We haven't heard the last about this teetering stack of dominoes.