Texas A&M is going to meet with the Texas House Committee on Higher Education on Tuesday, one day after a conference call among the Board of Regents. Yes, the move to the Southeastern Conference really and truly might be happening.
Texas A&M wants it. Aggies fans seem to want it. The students seem to want it. But now, politics will be involved and the same forces that shaped the Big 12 in the first place — there’s a reason Baylor got in over TCU — are going to argue to keep the status quo.
Don’t hold your breath.
Despite how the story might be spun, Texas A&M leaving for the SEC would be a major body blow for a Big 12 that weathered the storm of all the 2010 expansion talk but might not have enough sandbags this time around.
The Big 12 will have to get very, very creative to make sure it’s still viable and worth the mega-deal it was able to sign with FOX, and it will have to do everything possible to keep Texas happy while holding on to enough quality programs to provide opponents and programming for the Longhorn Network. ESPN makes out either way with its deal with the SEC certain to be stronger if A&M makes the switch, even though its Big 12 TV deal would take a step back.
But what does this really mean to the world of college football?
Everyone’s going to make millions, and the rich are all going to get richer, but how would an A&M move to the SEC be a positive? How would the conferences adapt and change, and how would the product be on the field? Let’s say Texas A&M really does bolt for the SEC . . .
1. It will be time for Texas A&M to start producing.
Find a football program with a bigger name that has done less, at least over the past decade, than Texas A&M.
UCLA might be in the running, hitting the skids under Rick Neuheisel and winning only one bowl game — something called the EagleBank Bowl against Temple – since 2005.
Clemson, outside of an appearance in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game two years ago, hasn’t exactly been burning up the ACC and is 1-4 in its past five bowl games.
Arizona State hasn’t gone bowling in the past three years and hasn’t won a postseason game since 2005, and Syracuse has fallen off the map.
But none of the underachieving programs is as big or has the following of A&M, which has compiled a 19-19 in head coach Mike Sherman’s three seasons.
Since shocking the college football world by beating Kansas State in the 1998 Big 12 title game, A&M hasn’t been close to getting back to the championship game, with Oklahoma and Texas dominating the league and the former Big 12 South.
That 1998 campaign was the Aggies’ only double-digit win season since 1994, and there has been just one bowl win since 1995. A&M is 1-10 in its past 11 bowl games, with the one win coming in the 2011 Gallery Furniture Bowl over a TCU program that wasn’t the TCU it is now. All of this means . . .
2. The SEC isn’t exactly going to lose any sleep.
It’s not like the Aggies have regularly battled SEC teams over the years, having played six games against the league since the classic 2000 Independence Bowl snow globe game against Mississippi State.
In those games, A&M is 0-6.
Since beating LSU 33-17 to open the 1995 season — back when A&M was in the Southwest Conference — the Aggies haven’t beaten an SEC team. They lost those six games by a combined score of 237-128, or an average of 39.5-21.3.
Texas A&M certainly would provide an instant boost to the SEC midsection, but it couldn’t come up with a Big 12 South title in more than a decade and now it might move to an even tougher league. The Aggies would certainly provide a tough filler game, but could they ever challenge for more? It’s going to take an upgrade in talent and production, however . . .
3. The recruiting would instantly improve.
According to Scout.com, Texas A&M ranked 33rd in the 2011 recruiting rankings, was 25th in 2010, 12th in 2009 and 15th in 2008.
All very solid rankings, but there’s a big difference between being in the top 15 and putting together elite-of-the-elite classes like Auburn did this year and Alabama and Florida come up with on a regular basis. However, it takes only a few signatures to move up the charts and make a good recruiting class special, and a move to the SEC would likely do that for A&M.
LSU might own Louisiana, but it’s also known for picking off a few key prospects here and there from Texas, like 2007 five-star receiver Terrence Toliver from Hempstead, Texas; 2009’s No. 1-ranked safety prospect, Craig Loston from Houston; and this year’s four-star defenders, Trevon Randle from League City and David Jenkins from Lewisville.
Arkansas always steals a few four-star types from Texas, and every SEC program tries to get a player or two away from the Big 12. Of course, Texas A&M isn’t going to get every Texas prospect that other SEC teams want, but even if it gets two future starters a year and can steal a few from SEC country that last year wouldn’t have thought about going to College Station, A&M could make that big leap forward it’s been waiting for.
By going to the SEC, Texas A&M will get more looks and more chances at top prospects that normally would have been locks for Texas or Oklahoma, and yes, the idea of staying in Texas and playing in the SEC — a much bigger stage than the Big 12 — would be a big selling point.
4. So how would the new SEC look?
It would be simple and obvious. Texas A&M would be a lock to join the SEC West — along with Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
The odds-on favorite to be the seventh team in the East is Florida State, to go along with Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. ESPN would push for more conference games, and the SEC would likely throw out one of its nonconference games and play a 10-game league slate with six games against the other teams in each division and four from the other side.
And although Georgia would still play Georgia Tech and South Carolina would still keep its rivalry date with Clemson, it would be cupcake central for most of the SEC’s nonconference games. If you’re a program from another BCS league, forget about ever getting an SEC team to come to your house.
5. So how would the new Big 12 look?
There was already a hate-fest for Texas by the rest of the Big 12 teams and a slew of programs were already looking to get out from under the Longhorns’ shadow. The Longhorn Network became the final straw.
Making matters worse is the disastrous nose-thumbing, public relations move by Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, who basically said A&M could do whatever it wanted because Texas is all that really matters to Big 12’s survival. Everyone already knew that, but it doesn’t help that even the pretense of league equality isn’t there.
Although Kansas has spearheaded the effort to rally the other eight non-Texas A&M programs around the idea of staying in the Big 12, the loyalty won’t last.
The Big 12 teams are all going to say the right things, and everyone will crow about how great the league can still be, but everyone has an eye on doing something different.
The Pac-12 wanted to be the Pac-14 or even the Pac-16 when it first looked at expanding, and Oklahoma would be a dream acquisition as a rival for Southern Cal in the South. Missouri is the Big Ten’s for the asking, and Kansas, because of the basketball program, would be a nice fit for the Pac-12 North.
On the plus side for the Big 12, assuming no one else takes off, would be more TV money for the remaining programs. But the package wouldn’t be as interesting without the Aggies, and a nine-team league wouldn’t last very long.
Beebe has learned his lesson, and he and the Big 12 will be more proactive in case more teams start to defect. The Big 12 would take a look at Houston or maybe even Southern Methodist just to keep more of a Texas presence and to appease some state politicians, but it would have to be proactive.
Colorado State would be a decent fit with the Denver TV market a positive, Boise State would bring a little pop and Southern Miss would make sense to expand east, but the options are limited. The league isn’t in a position to take teams away from other BCS conferences, and going after Conference USA and Mountain West teams will look desperate, which is precisely what the Big 12 will be without Texas A&M.
6. Would Texas A&M leaving for the SEC be a good thing for college football?
No. It would make the SEC stronger, and while that might be a whole bunch of fun to watch, adding A&M, and possibly Florida State, would only make the gap between the conferences even bigger.
It would also be the catalyst to escalate the super-conference arms race, it would raise the stakes even higher for an SEC that’s already nuts, and it would probably be a net-minus for the sport as a whole. It’ll be hard to take any other conference seriously if the SEC has at least 10 — probably more like 11 or even 12 — legitimate top 25 teams each any every year. Again, though, Texas A&M and Florida State in the SEC would make for one whale of a conference.