Move to SEC has momentum in A&M’s divided house, source says

Move to SEC has momentum in A&M’s divided house, source says

Chuck Carlton – The Dallas Morning News

The great Texas A&M conference debate has ignited the Aggies’ fan base, spilled over into cyberspace and even has school legends debating the right path.

At stake: whether Texas A&M joins longtime rival Texas along with Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the bulked up Pac-10 or pursues its own destiny in the Southeastern Conference.

Multiple sources familiar with the situation described a sharply divided board of regents and a potential razor-thin margin either way, with the SEC camp having the momentum. Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott, armed with invitations, will visit A&M officials today on a trip around Texas with stops at UT and Texas Tech, a source familiar with the schedule confirmed.

Scott met Saturday with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Oklahoma has scheduled a board of regents meeting for Wednesday to consider conference membership. While athletic director Joe Castiglione has acknowledged talking to the SEC, he told the Tulsa World that the Sooners are linked with Texas.

Several schools, led by Baylor, were still trying to salvage the idea of a 10-team Big 12, minus departing Nebraska and Colorado.

A move to the SEC would separate the Aggies from Texas and endanger the annual series, especially in football. One unconfirmed Internet report said SEC commissioner Mike Slive visited College Station on Saturday. The league office would not confirm or deny that report.

The idea of a move to the SEC seems to be gaining traction with the A&M fan base. A Facebook page titled “TAMU to the SEC” had more than 2,300 friends by late Saturday afternoon.

A&M athletic director Bill Byrne responded via e-mail Saturday, thanking the fans for their support and passion.

“Please let us continue to go through a thorough and thoughtful process,” Byrne wrote. “Like you, we understand that this decision will impact us for decades. Let’s not rush.

“Having said that, it is still our choice to keep the remaining ten Big 12 schools together if we can. If we cannot do that, then we will do our best to do the right thing.”

But what is the right thing?

John David Crow and Gene Stallings each played for Bear Bryant at A&M in the 1950s and served the university with distinction long after their on-the-field careers ended.

Now the two Aggie legends have differing views about A&M’s priorities.

Stallings, a school regent, told syndicated radio host Paul Finebaum on Friday the Aggies “don’t need to be piggybacked by anyone else.”

Crow offered his view in a phone interview Saturday, using the proposal to join four other Big 12 South teams in the Pac-10 as an example.

“I wouldn’t think that just because we join with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas that we would be piggybacking with anybody,” said Crow, A&M’s only Heisman Trophy winner and later the school’s athletic director. “I think if we decide that it’s best for Texas A&M to join the Pac-10, 12 or 16 or whatever, I don’t see why anybody would say we’d be piggybacking on the University of Texas.”

Crow wasn’t the only Heisman recipient who felt the UT-A&M series was a defining moment.

Former Texas standout Ricky Williams, the 1998 Heisman winner and now a member of the Miami Dolphins, said via e-mail that all he heard when he arrived in Austin from California was talk about the A&M game.

“A good season meant that we beat the Aggies, and when we fell short it was reflected in our performance against them,” Williams wrote. “Most of my greatest memories involve A&M. I couldn’t imagine Texas without A&M