Posted by Adam Jacobi
On Monday afternoon, Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement that "it is not our intent to prolong our conference exploration for an extended period of time." If the multiple media reports from Monday evening are to be believed, Mr. Loftin was certainly not exaggerating.
Late Monday night, the New York Times published a report that Texas A&M had indeed filed its formal withdrawal from the conference, most likely to officially take place on Tuesday:
Texas A&M’s departure from the Big 12 drew closer to reality on Monday when the university president, R. Bowen Loftin, sent a letter to the Big 12 board chairman, Missouri President Brady Deaton, notifying the league it will formally withdraw — very likely on Tuesday — according to two college officials with direct knowledge of the decision.
Sources at the school have since confirmed that report to Orangebloods.com, and the Associated Press is reporting this move now as well. This would likely be the latest and most decisive step in Texas A&M's ongoing campaign to join the SEC for the 2012 football season; only a formal application to the SEC is all that remains.
Earlier on Monday, the Big 12 sent a letter to Texas A&M spelling out the terms necessary for the Aggies' departure from the conference, including the "mutual waivers of legal claims" that would essentially clear a legal path for withdrawal from the Big 12. That letter fulfilled a request from Texas A&M on Monday morning asking for all the necessary terms for withdrawal.
If that all sounds like extra-dry legalese, it sort of is; in short, all this means is that there are legal steps to be followed for Texas A&M to leave the Big 12 as soon as possible without any added repercussions for the school past the Big 12 conference by-laws -- and no repercussions for the SEC whatsoever, who could otherwise be open for litigation if the Big 12 thought the SEC was "recruiting" schools while they were current members of the Big 12.
Undermining that idea, however, is the fact that the SEC has stayed quiet throughout these proceedings, only releasing a statement a couple weeks ago that it was happy at 12 teams and had no plans to expand unless the conference landscape changed significantly. Evidently, Texas A&M's formal withdrawal is enough to qualify; there's virtually zero chance this process would have gotten as far as it has without the SEC's (private) approval.
This departure would be the third that the Big 12 would suffer in the last two years; Nebraska left for the Big Ten effective this season, and Colorado has also joined the Pac-12 on the same timeline. Without these three schools, the "Big 12" would have just nine schools committed to the conference for the 2012 football season and beyond at this point.
The Aggies' reasons for seeking greener pastures are varied and nebulous, but the near-universal underlying theme to the reasons is A&M's relationship with Texas. Texas has caused a great deal of consternation in College Station recently with not only the advent of the ESPN-affiliated Longhorn Network, but the concessions granted to the channel thereafter. Before the NCAA intervened with a ban on collegiate networks showing high school athletics, the Longhorn Network was poised to air HS games involving key recruits. The network also planned to air a conference football game, a plan to which Texas A&M took special offense, even after the Big 12 put the kibosh on that idea as well.
Conference commissioner Dan Beebe has already indicated that Texas A&M's departure would not be a deathblow to the conference, however. Beebe told his constituents in a letter two weeks ago that the Big 12 would survive the loss of A&M, and the names of schools like Houston and SMU have been bandied about as possible local replacements for the Aggies -- though the ratio of schools mentioned as Big Ten expansion candidates to actual expansion schools (roughly 20:1) should be something of a damper on Houston and SMU talk.
Furthermore, the commissioner said in a later letter that the conference was "poised to move aggressively" to rebuild its ranks, and that type of language could indicate some mutual interest from an independent football program -- namely BYU, since Notre Dame has already shot down any talk of the Big 12. Otherwise, if the Big 12 publicly states it's "poised to move aggressively" at colleges that are still active conference members elsewhere, it opens itself up to the type of litigation the SEC had specifically avoided above.
As usual, the Aggie football program itself has been somewhat taciturn in its response to the potential move, though that's not a sign of reluctance. As head coach Mike Sherman pointed out, it's a move that isn't even going to affect the program's most important class.
"We have a bunch of seniors on this team that will never play in that conference," Sherman said in a Monday conference call, ostensibly referring to the SEC. "They, at this point, could care less. They're concerned with winning this season."
Senior safety Trent Hunter agreed with that sentiment in an earlier interview, saying the realignment talk is "not anything that's going to affect us playing SMU in that first week."
While it'd be easy to dismiss Sherman and Hunter as just using typical deflection techniques that are endemic in just about every athlete or coach interview, it's a fact that the move affects nothing about the coming season, and this season is all anybody for A&M -- coaches, assistants, seniors, on down to the true freshmen -- ought to be focusing on, because it's all that every other opponent of the Aggies is going to be focusing on. To start looking ahead to future years in Week 1 is to lose focus on the task at hand from the word "go," and that is a recipe for unmitigated disaster. Kudos to the A&M program for not falling into that trap thus far.