We have 16 days before College Football starts, which means that its time to start talking about and obsessing over conference realignment. Woo-hoo! I love conference realignment talk almost as much as a Buffy marathon, shark swim, Tim Gunn meeting, and Kate Spade shoe sale combined. Almost. Last year there was a lot of chatter about Texas A&M moving to the SEC. A little over a year later, the chatter has increased. As of today, it looks like the move is imminent-though halted. *I recommend reading articles from Frank the Tank, Sports Illustrated, Kirk Bohls, and espn for more in-depth analysis.
Why are the Aggies thinking about moving?- In my opinion, the biggest reason behind the most recent rumors of a move to the SEC is the Longhorn Network. Maybe not directly, but indirectly. Once again Texas has something the Aggies don't and it doesn't make them happy. Not only is the Network a huge financial jackpot for Texas, it is a recruiting dream. (And, oh YES, I LOVE it!) Since the Longhorns aren't about to give up the Network, A&M is going to make it as uncomfortable for the rest of the BIG 12 as possible. Ultimately though, it's all about the money. (Not a dig against A&M, every major college football decision in the last 20 years has been about the money.)
Money, recruits & the future-there's more of it in the SEC. If the SEC accepts A&M to the conference, they can renegotiate their TV deal and probably make the most lucrative deal to date. A&M will have more money, which is good, because they'll need it. They will need to make A&M more attractive to a higher level of recruits; either in sports facilities or professors, etc. A&M's recruiting has fallen off in the last decade compared to the great classes snagged by Mack Brown and Bob Stoops. SEC schools have great recruiting classes because they have so much to offer recruits. A&M will be able to offer its recruits the chance to play on a stronger stage and wider audience. However, that stage will have a higher caliber of team and A&M will need to rise to meet the SEC.
What does it mean for A&M? -My perspective is that A&M will likely be right where they are now. Occasionally they get a high ranking, but almost always end up around a .500 season, only one conference championship and one BCS Bowl. Examining the bowls they have played in results in a 5 bowl losing streak (3 of the 5 losses were against SEC teams). And, that’s OK. Not everyone can win a National Championship (multiple times) or have Heisman candidates, but they will have money. *I should clarify here that this might be OK for the Aggies, but it most certainly would NOT be OK for Texas. I could barely handle one bad season, multiple seasons of less than 10 wins-NO.* The SEC is a strong conference. As much as it kills me to say this, they are the strongest football conference. The rest of the SEC's sports are pretty impressive as well. I think A&M will be at the bottom, or near the bottom of the SEC in most sports for quite some time. A&M isn't that strong in basketball (no conference championship, only one sweet 16 appearance in the past 15 years), while the rest of the SEC is pretty good. The SEC is even better as baseball, which is usually a pretty good sport for A&M. However, in a few years, the recruiting might be stronger for A&M than it is now, not because A&M will necessarily win more but because they will be playing at a higher level and on a stronger field. Clearly A&M is not going to make the move to the SEC because they think they can immediately win the conference.
What about the State?- This is where I think the deal gets held up a bit. A&M is a state supported school and, as such, has always had significant strings to what it can and can't do. The fact of the matter is that Texas and A&M have been a package deal since, well...the beginning. The only reason that the Big 12 exists as it does is because the state mandated that Texas and A&M make sure a couple of the smaller schools (Tech and Baylor) got taken care of. I don't see the Legislature allowing A&M to make a sweet deal for itself that leaves Tech swinging in the wind. Not without repercussions. A&M may be able to smooth some feathers by bringing in the SEC money and reducing the amount of appropriations they need from the state. That could work. Or, negotiating with the SEC to invite Tech, that could work too. Bear in mind that A&M is dealing with state elected officials who are probably getting pressure from constituents to maintain the Texas-A&M rivalry, so A&M needs to make sure that the Legislature at least feels like they are exerting some control over the situation. That said, A&M has never gotten the lion's share of appropriations before, so maybe they don't mind if their share is reduced. Maybe they think that there will be enough SEC cash flowing in to off-set the reduction.
What does it mean for the Texas-Aggie rivalry? -The Texas v A&M rivalry is far less than it was 20 years ago, even less than it was 10 years ago. The fact of the matter is that Texas vs Oklahoma has become far more important a rivalry than A&M. In fact, for many years, the Texas versus Oklahoma game was basically a National Championship. During that time, Texas A&M created a new rivalry with Texas Tech, which makes more sense given their similar playing levels and school composition. This is not a dig because I am a Longhorn and dislike A&M (some of my best friends are Aggies), these are the facts. I would happily debate anyone who still believes that Texas v A&M is THE rivalry it used to be. There are a number of schools that have cross-conference rivalries. I believe that Texas and A&M will always schedule games against each other, whether or not they are in the same conference. We are looking at generations of history, you don't throw away that tradition.
Does it kill the Big 12?-Probably, but we knew that a year ago. Alternately, the Big 12 could expand (back to 12-ha ha!). I don't like that option as much. I'd rather see Texas and Oklahoma go to another conference, or even start their own conference, maybe bring Tech, OSU, Notre Dame...hmmm... that would be fun! It means we can FINALLY write our own ticket. Texas is the pretty girl everybody wants to dance with. Still. Yes, we have our own Network and a lot of conferences won’t want to deal with that. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways around that. Other conferences have regional networks, there's no reason why Texas couldn't bring the Longhorn Network with it to the Pac-10 or Big Ten. The benefits of having Texas in your conference still outweigh Texas with its own network, just ask Dan Beebe. Texas could 1) negotiate with ESPN, 2) Create a new conference from disenfranchised teams tired of their conferences, 3) go to a new super conference of 16 somewhere….the options really are endless.
I LOVE conference realignment talk, so this is all fascinating to me. I wish the Aggies well if they decide to go to the SEC. I don’t think it is the panacea they think it is. And, frankly I think it boils down to whining about what Texas has (EARNED) that they do not have. I would love the creation of four or five super (16 team) conferences. Basically that would create a de facto playoff system. That is very much needed and would be exceedingly entertaining. The drawback to the super-conference idea is the death of the little guys like BYU and SMU. That said, I have LONG maintained that the little guys just do not play consistently at the same level as the big ones; it's not even apples and oranges. If A&M moves to the SEC, it opens the state up to more recruiting pressure from the SEC. I'm OK with that since there are a TON of very talented football players in Texas and it’s big enough for everyone. I also think that there are legions of great football players who are born and bred to love Texas and will sign up to play for Texas because all their life they've dreamed of wearing a Longhorn uniform. It doesn't much matter whether that uniform is in the Big 12, Pac-10, Big Ten, SEC, or any other conference. You play Texas football. It is what it is.