The Big 12 erupted in infighting Wednesday, with Texas A&M angrily accusing the commissioner of going back on his word and suggesting one of its fellow league schools was deliberately slowing its departure to the Southeastern Conference.
Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin pointed to two different statements from Commissioner Dan Beebe sent within the past week.
The first was a letter sent Sept. 2 to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive that said the Big 12 "and its members" had agreed to waive the right for legal action against the SEC over the Aggies' move. Loftin then shared with The Associated Press a copy of a Sept. 6 email sent by Beebe to Slive that said the legal waivers from each school were actually far from being secure.
"You have notified me that the SEC is willing to accept the application of Texas A&M to become a member of the SEC, provided that the Big 12 member institutions individually waive any legal actions against the SEC for its decision," Beebe wrote.
"I recognize that this issue has been raised due to Baylor University's indication that its governing board has not waived the university's rights," Beebe added. "As you know, the attached letter waived the right of the Big 12 Conference Inc. to take legal action against the SEC. Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton, chair of the Big 12 Board of Directors, has told me that he informed Texas A&M President Bowen Loftin that such action by the Big 12 Conference Board of Directors was not binding on the individual institutions' governing boards.
"If you seek waivers by the individual institutions, you must receive them from those institutions directly. I regret any confusion on this issue."
The email was sent late Tuesday even as SEC presidents and chancellors agreed to accept Texas A&M if the league has guarantees it won't be sued over the latest move in conference realignment. That announcement came early Wednesday and an SEC spokesman had no additional comment.
Loftin, however, was clearly angry about Beebe's statement.
"I felt that was really a violation of trust right there," Loftin told the AP in an interview. "We took this letter very seriously. We asked for such a statement. They gave it to us freely. It says here unanimous vote was taken and yet when we look at Beebe's letter last night it says: 'No we didn't really mean that,' and I find that to be rather difficult to digest."
Texas A&M officials don't understand the last-minute switch and don't understand why Beebe changed his tune, Loftin said.
"We are being held hostage right now," Loftin said of being forced to stay in the Big 12. "Essentially, we're being told that you must stay here against your will and we think that really flies in the face of what makes us Americans for example and makes us free people."
The Big 12 accused Texas A&M of making an extraordinary request that will put some members at risk of losing millions of dollars in revenue, presumably from the 13-year, $1 billion television deal reached with Fox Sports in April.
"This is the first time to my knowledge that a conference has been requested to waive any legal claims toward another conference for any damages suffered with a membership change," Beebe said. "The Big 12 Conference was asked by Texas A&M University and the Southeastern Conference to waive any such claim to help facilitate Texas A&M's departure from the conference without any consideration to the Big 12. ... If the departure of Texas A&M results in significant changes in the Big 12 membership, several institutions may be severely affected after counting on revenue streams from contracts that were approved unanimously by our members, including Texas A&M.
"In some cases, members reasonably relied on such approval to embark on obligations that will cost millions of dollars."
Loftin said he believes Texas A&M is "replaceable" when it comes to the TV contract.
"We can argue how good we are compared to others, but I think we're replaceable," he said. "It was clearly stated to me by leadership of Fox that they felt like a school could be found and put in our place to satisfy their interests and therefore their contractual agreement would not be changed in any way. So we feel that was a good way to say that we would not be destabilizing the conference by leaving."
Loftin was in meetings most of Wednesday, trying to figure out what A&M will do next. He said he spoke with SEC officials Wednesday and that they are trying to take in the recent developments. Loftin said he was disappointed that A&M wasn't introduced as the SEC's newest member on Wednesday, but he empathizes the predicament the SEC is in.
"We believe we have no real future in the Big 12," Loftin said. "That's clear to us and how that plays out right now I can't really tell you. That's still actively being worked through. We really appreciated the support shown yesterday by the SEC leadership, a unanimous vote to let us in. But they're rightly concerned about themselves getting involved in extensive litigation that might distract them from their purpose as a conference and I can understand that."
The Big 12's future has been the subject of intense speculation for more than a year. Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) left in July, while Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are rumored to be the subjects of courting by the Pac-12 with an eye toward building a superconference.
Not as clear was where schools like Iowa State, Missouri Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Baylor might wind up if the Big 12 falls apart.
"We are basically sitting in a traffic jam and going nowhere fast," Texas Tech President Guy Bailey said of discussions with Big 12 school officials on Wednesday.
"Recent events have put conference discussions in a holding pattern," Bailey said. "However, we will continue to closely monitor the situation and actively pursue a course in the best interest of Texas Tech University."
At Missouri, Chancellor Brady Deaton -- chairman of the Big 12 board -- said the league "remains a strong conference, highly respected academically and athletically."
A person with knowledge of the Big 12 discussions, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are considered private, said that after the Sept. 2 letter, Baylor was the first to "raise its hand" in numerous conversations with Big 12 and SEC officials, along with other conference members, about retaining its legal rights.
That person said Wednesday that there has been no threat of a lawsuit or other legal action. Texas Tech spokesman Chris Cook also said it was "not our intent" to sue anyone, while Iowa State spokesman John McCarroll said the university had not waived its right to pursue potential litigation regarding A&M.
Without naming the school, Loftin said one Big 12 school had been trying to stop A&M's move from the beginning.
"Clearly for quite some time, one school has been specifically the one trying to both bring pressure on us politically for a while and now raising the threat of legal action," he said. "In fact even calling members of the board of the SEC directly and the commissioner of the SEC directly and speaking to them and leaving voicemails for them."
Loftin said that "nothing really changed" after a conference call among seven of the 10 Big 12 presidents on Wednesday. Much of the call was filled with Baylor explaining its position and the group said discussed if it should start looking at why schools want to leave the Big 12, Loftin said.
For Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, Texas A&M's departure could mean the end of one of college football's greatest games.
"I just hope they don't lose the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry," said McCoy, the former Longhorns star. "My junior and senior years that was it — Thanksgiving night, under the lights, that's football, man. The Lone Star Showdown or whatever. Those are the biggest schools in Texas. You just can't lose that."