With one response, Gov. Rick Perry elevated the rumors linking Texas A&M and the Southeastern Conference beyond message board chatter and Twitter.
Asked by The Dallas Morning News’ statehouse reporters Wednesday about speculation that A&M might bolt the Big 12 for the SEC, Perry responded: “I’ll be real honest with you. I just read about it the same time as y’all did. ... As far as I know, conversations are being had. That’s frankly all I know. I just refer you to the university and the decision makers over there.”
The comments from a prominent former student, one-time Aggie yell leader and likely presidential candidate sent the message that A&M is considering a move that could again rock the Big 12 and end longstanding traditional rivalries.
At the same time, Perry’s quote raises questions. Are the conversations among A&M officials? Have they extended to talks with the SEC? Where do president R. Bowen Loftin and athletic director Bill Byrne stand?
Asked about Perry’s comments and discussions regarding conference membership, A&M released a statement Wednesday afternoon. Rather than refute the speculation, A&M took a different approach. The statement read: “President Loftin is committed to doing what is best for Texas A&M not only now, but also into the future. We continue to have wide-ranging conversations regarding all aspects of the university, including both academics and athletics.”
Asked in a follow-up email to confirm or deny SEC discussion, A&M spokesman Jason Cook responded: “I will decline to address further .... Thanks for your understanding.”
Byrne, traveling with the men’s basketball team in Europe, didn’t immediately return an email. With commissioner Dan Beebe attending an NCAA summit in Indianapolis, the Big 12 declined comment.
Multiple high-level sources throughout the conference indicated than an A&M move was not viewed as eminent, although things could escalate. They detailed a view of a divided board of regents seriously willing to explore the SEC option. A large, vocal contingent of the fan base has given the movement momentum.
Several Big 12 sources also expressed a growing frustration with A&M’s wanderlust and its impact on a conference trying to rebrand itself after losing Nebraska and Colorado. For the past several months, A&M was the most vocal critic of Texas’ startup Longhorn Network with ESPN and its plans to televise high school games and Big 12 football contests.
Conference athletic directors and presidents gave A&M almost all of what it wanted last week, imposing at least a one-year moratorium on Longhorn Network high school games.
The opponent and league office must approve any conference game carried by the network. Apparently, A&M was not appeased.
Sources indicated that no other Big 12 team is considering an exit and the league would continue with nine teams if A&M left.
While sources said that A&M is intrigued about the SEC’s possibilities, the Aggies remain troubled by the Longhorn Network and its effect on Big 12 stability.
Proponents of a move to the SEC suggest that Texas A&M could finally escape Texas’ shadow and forge a separate national identity. With five consecutive BCS titles, the SEC represents the gold standard for football. A&M would be joining the elite.
But A&M would presumably join the SEC West and face a football schedule that includes Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Arkansas annually. The Aggies have lost their last six meetings against SEC opponents. The SEC maintains a conference title game. The Big 12 does not, providing an easier path to a BCS appearance.
A&M would also lose longstanding rivalries.
The Aggies have played Texas and Baylor more than 100 times. The Texas Legislature could get involved.
Yet none of that may matter given the direction A&M is moving.