Considering the A&M to SEC RumblingsPosted by rtmsf on August 13th, 2011
Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent and columnist. He takes a look at the potential fallout from a Texas A&M move to the SEC, viewing it as still more fallout from 2010’s conference realignment maneuvering.
A year after the Big 12 and Mountain West (among others) averted Armageddon in a nationwide game of conference realignment, it appears things are on the move again. Last year’s juggling of teams between conferences ended with the Big Ten adding Nebraska, the Pac-10 expanding to 12 with the addition of Colorado and Utah, and the Mountain West adding Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada, just as BYU went independent and TCU threw in with its most obvious natural rivals in the Big East (ahem). But, all things considered, the wildest potential moves from last year’s round of positioning failed to materialize. However, there were some hurt feelings then as a result not only of the shakeup, but also as a result of some of the new television contracts that were negotiated. And now, with Texas A&M seemingly locked on moving to the SEC in 2012, it appears that Texas’ decision to strike out on its own in creating the Longhorn Television network is the primary force generating what could be the second set of conference realignment waves.
As mentioned above, all signs point to an A&M move to the SEC; the only thing missing is an official announcement. A special regents meeting will take place Monday afternoon, with one agenda item discussing the “Authorization for the President to Take All Actions Relating to Texas A&M University’s Athletic Conference Alignment.” Aggie fans and administrators have long bristled at the uneven playing field in the Big 12 (heavily tilted in Texas’ favor), a sentiment that was only further fueled in recent months as the Longhorn Network and ESPN discussed the possibility of airing the high school games of potential Texas recruits, a possibility that has since been squashed by the NCAA. Nevertheless, it appears that A&M’s flirtations with the SEC, which date back to last year’s near destruction of the Big 12, are about to be consummated. The question is what happens next. An SEC invitation to Texas A&M is likely predicated on their ability to secure a 14th team for their conference with potential invitees including Clemson, Florida State, Missouri, and even potentially North Carolina, among others. However, with the SEC currently near the start of a 15-year/$209 million television contact with ESPN and CBS, the addition of one team, two teams or four teams likely means a reduced piece of the pie for each school. There may be room for renegotiating a bit based on the addition of new teams and new markets, but all indications are that as more teams are added to the conference, each individual member school pockets less, with the new invitees potentially getting an even thinner end of the stick. While the A&M move has been reported as a nearly done deal, there are still quite a few details that need to be worked out.
But, for a minute, let’s consider the ramifications if A&M to the SEC does happen. As we saw last year, each individual move that conferences make can trigger subsequent moves. With A&M leaving the Big 12 at just nine teams, does the Big 12 strike out in search of new additions, or is a nine-team league a possibility? Early rumors point toward the Big 12 targeting Notre Dame, BYU and Air Force, in that order, with the first two possibilities on that list likely nothing more than pie-in-the-sky dreaming. Air Force to the Big 12 would be a possibility, and one that wouldn’t cripple the MW in the process, leaving them with eight full members plus Hawai’i as a football-only member. The MW could sit there, or it could finally make good on its oft-rumored interest in Utah State, a move which would serve the dual-purpose of sticking it to the WAC again, an activity that has seemingly become a part-time hobby for MW commissioner Craig Thompson. For the Big 12, however, Air Force would be a pretty significant downgrade from A&M in both football, basketball and tradition.
Looking at the other domino, the SEC’s potential 14th team, Missouri’s athletic director Mike Alden has already strongly denied that his school is a possibility, but don’t forget that Mizzou seemed to have its heart set on the Big Ten last year. As for Florida State and Clemson, either would seem to be a fairly natural fit in the football-crazy conference, but current SEC members Florida and South Carolina may not be too eager to add additional in-state competition to the conference. And the UNC to the SEC rumor? Yikes. As college basketball fans, let’s just dismiss that straight out. Not only does it seem unlikely, but losing the UNC/Duke conference tussles is a possibility we’d all be better off not even considering. Virginia Tech would also be a pretty good philosophical fit in the SEC, but so far there are no credible rumors of the Hokies moving, while Oklahoma could be a possibility as well, but it seems that they are just fine sticking in the Big 12, even without A&M. As of yet, the SEC has found no takers, and if it cannot find a suitable 14th team (really, getting to 16 teams seems a stretch at this point), perhaps the offer to A&M is off the table, a turn of events that would be pretty crushing to Aggie fans. In the end, the likeliest 14th member is still Florida State, and it remains around 50/50 that the combo of A&M/FSU head to the SEC.
So, let’s take the next step and assume that the ‘Noles head to the SEC: where does that leave the ACC? They could reasonably sit at 11 (especially considering the trouble they’ve had in getting anyone to show up to their football championship game), or they could try to raid the Big East for an additional school (adding UConn, Rutgers or Syracuse as a more geographically relevant pair for Boston College, or South Florida as a geographical replacement for FSU). Or maybe the Big East is able to pick off an ACC school (Would BC go back? Would they even be wanted back? Maryland? Virginia Tech?) in their quest for football relevance, and maybe the ACC doesn’t even fight them that hard and drops back to ten to eliminate the championship game fiasco once and for all while opening up the possibility for full round-robins in football and basketball.
And speaking of basketball, this is the time where we remind everyone that our game really doesn’t much factor into any of the wheelings and dealings going on. This is about money, of course, and football is the big money generator. But, hoops is going to have to deal with the changes that go down on the football side. Since we’re primarily interested in that side of things, how do these possible moves affect the basketball side of things? First off, while Texas A&M doesn’t really have much in terms of basketball history, it has been a serious player recently. Since Billy Gillispie turned the program around, the Aggies have made six straight NCAA Tournaments (doubling their total for the history of the program) and look to be one of the favorites in the Big 12 race this year. With new coach Billy Kennedy and a string of successful recruiting classes, the Aggies would improve the strength of the SEC’s basketball profile, while dealing the Big 12 another blow. If Florida State winds up in the SEC as well, they’re a somewhat similar program to A&M, in that they have little in the way of basketball history, but have been strong of late. They’ve made three straight NCAA Tournaments, after having missed the previous ten years, and seem to be a program on the upswing under Leonard Hamilton.
As we learned last year, even with all the wild rumors swirling around, these are major business decisions that need to have a lot of things fall into place in order to get accomplished. Maybe A&M goes to the SEC, maybe pulling FSU along with them, and perhaps the shift stops there – at least for the time being. What seems pretty clear is that despite the assurances we got last season that conference realignment had ended, we’re still getting some pieces settling out after last year’s quake. And as these pieces settle, we may see further chain reactions; they just may occur a little more slowly than we expect.