When the other 13 presidents of Southeastern Conference schools were ready to vote last week to make Texas A&M the permanent cross-divisional football opponent of South Carolina, Harris Pastides wanted to wait until he heard from his fan base.
Now he has.
Pastides, South Carolina’s president, will vote for the Aggies, who will join SEC play this season, to become a permanent fixture on the Gamecocks’ schedule beginning in 2013 after hearing the results of a fan poll conducted by The State and GoGamecocks.com, he told The State on Saturday.
Gamecock fans overwhelming support dropping Arkansas from the schedule to make way for a new rivalry with Texas A&M, according to a two-day online survey conducted by the newspaper. Seventy-six percent of the 793 fans who voted by Saturday night wanted the Aggies over the Razorbacks.
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“That probably confirms the deal quite frankly,” Pastides said. “If the poll went in favor of Texas A&M, I probably will vote with that when we take that vote.”
The rest of the league was ready to make that vote during a meeting last week, Pastides said.
“We were told the athletic directors were in favor of a change for Arkansas to be Missouri’s permanent opponent and for us to get Texas A&M,” Pastides said. “I said, ‘Hold on a second. That’s a big decision, and I’d like to hear what the fans think about that.’ They were kind of motivated to get it done and move on, and I said, ‘I think it’s premature. I need to go back to Columbia and see what people think about that.’ ”
Luanne Lawrence, South Carolina’s vice president for communication, approached The State last week about running a poll to determine the fan base’s preference. That poll ran for two days with one vote being allowed from each computer.
The presidents’ final vote is expected to come after this week’s SEC men’s basketball tournament, Pastides said.
South Carolina and Arkansas have played each season since they joined the league together in 1992. The Razorbacks lead the series 13-7 and have won five of the last six, including a 44-28 victory in Fayetteville, Ark., last season that cost the Gamecocks the Eastern Division title.
“I didn’t know what to expect (from the poll),” Pastides said. “You have to understand that the university president is a fan, too. I know because Arkansas has had our number in football over the past several years, I know that some people may think we’d be better not to play them. My feeling is that’s shortsighted because who is up today may not be up tomorrow.”
Arkansas is on the 2012 schedule but will go off in 2013 and become one of six Western Division teams (along with Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State) that will rotate on and off the schedule on a yearly basis. The SEC athletic directors discussed doing away with permanent opponents and having two rotating cross-divisional games but quickly dismissed that idea because it would have ended longtime yearly games such as Georgia vs. Auburn, Pastides said.
“We have great respect for Arkansas, but I think it’s fair to say our fans never developed the same kind of passionate rivalry about playing Arkansas that maybe some other university did playing their Western Division rivalry,” Pastides said. “I respect the fans. Fans are not often consulted on important decisions and ultimately administrators come and go and coaches come and go and athletic directors come and go and fans stay.”
South Carolina and Texas A&M have never played in football.
“I think we can develop a wonderful rivalry with Texas A&M,” Pastides said. “They are one of the most storied traditions in college athletics. It’s not a done deal. The vote has not been taken, but it is true the athletic directors recommended that to us. Short of my going back to the presidents and saying, it’s a bad idea (it is going to happen).”