FORT WORTH, Texas — Man the lifeboats, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe. More Texas A&M SEC-ession talk surfaced this week, with the state's highest-profile Aggie, Gov. Rick Perry, shining a public spotlight on private talks between his alma mater and the Southeastern Conference.
“As far as I know, conversations are being had,” Perry told statehouse reporters from The Dallas Morning News. “That's frankly all I know. I just refer you to the university and the decision-makers over there.”
Fair enough. But let's be realistic enough to understand that Perry, a potential presidential candidate and former A&M yell leader, ranks among the biggest decision-makers at his alma mater.
If Perry wants to be the catalyst to carry the Aggies to the SEC by the 2013 football season, if not sooner, he clearly is well-positioned to steer things in that direction. Such a move has been a topic of heavy speculation in recent days on A&M message boards, websites and Twitter feeds although school officials have worked to downplay the furor.
In the wake of Perry's comments, A&M officials responded Wednesday night with a statement saying university President R. Bowen Loftin “is committed to doing what is best for Texas A&M not only now, but also in the future. We continue to have wide-ranging conversations regarding all aspects of the university, including both academics and athletics.”
Notice the statement does not include a denial of SEC-related discussions. That means the talks have substance. But is moving to the SEC a good idea for A&M?
No doubt, it raises A&M's profile nationally. But it could diminish a football program on the rise by forcing the Aggies to play a steady diet of recent BCS national champions like Auburn (2010), Alabama (2009), Florida (2008, 2006) and LSU (2007, 2003) simply to win the SEC's West Division.
Realize that adding A&M, which pondered a move to the SEC last summer when the Big 12 was teetering on the brink of extinction, would allow SEC officials to re-open negotiations on a $2 billion, 15-year television rights agreement signed in 2008 that now looks puny, based on recent standards set by the Pac-12 and others. So the SEC has reason to be interested, whether A&M would join as a solo act or in conjunction with another school like Florida State or Clemson.
It is no secret that A&M officials are frustrated by the impending launch of the Longhorn Network, Texas' 24-hour station in conjunction with ESPN, and have voiced concerns about the growing clout given to their rival and its network in deciding Big 12 issues.
During last week's meeting of Big 12 athletic directors, A&M essentially finished 1-1 on two points of contention: The Longhorn Network was barred from televising high school games for one year (win for A&M) but league officials approved the possibility of a conference football game on the Longhorn Network if the opposing team and league officials agreed (UT win).
Maybe 1-1 wasn't good enough for A&M officials. Maybe Perry is simply stirring the pot to try and elicit more concessions from Big 12 officials in future meetings.
Either way, Beebe needs to realize his conference is back in play as a target for poachers from rival leagues. And the Aggies sound like a group eager to find a neighborhood that does not include the Longhorn Network.