A&M regents clear path for SEC move

Posted Monday, Aug. 15, 2011  comments  Print Reprints
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COLLEGE STATION -- Given unanimous approval Monday by the Texas A&M board of regents to negotiate on the school's behalf in regard to conference alignment, school President R. Bowen Loftin made it clear the Southeastern Conference is an intriguing option to the Aggies.

But he stressed that a "100-year decision" on the fate of A&M athletics will not be made hastily. Although Loftin never ruled out staying in the Big 12, he indicated A&M officials view the SEC as a more stable league for a school seeking "greater visibility" and "additional revenues" for its sports programs.

"The Big 12 went through a very major upheaval last year... and another one more recently," Loftin said, referring to last year's loss of two schools and this summer's disagreements about the impact of the Longhorn Network on league policies. "You can judge for yourself if there's instability or not. More importantly, the SEC has a different kind of record [in terms of stability]. That's just what it is."

Loftin confirmed calling SEC commissioner Mike Slive on July 21 to begin discussions that led to Sunday's decision by SEC administrators to take no action in regard to A&M while issuing a statement saying "future conditions may make it advantageous to expand" the 12-member league.

Loftin said he and Slive have "had conversations, on and off, the last few weeks" but the Aggies are not sitting on an SEC invitation.

"There is no bid. There has never been a bid," Loftin said.

If the SEC extended an offer, Loftin said: "We'd certainly have to evaluate that... It's not so much what is wrong with the Big 12. It's what is right for Texas A&M."

Loftin said he envisioned a "lengthy" deliberation period in regard to conference realignment but has no timetable. His comments came on the same day NCAA President Mark Emmert acknowledged making phone calls to high-ranking college officials to urge more accountability -- and less chaos -- in college athletics, particularly as it relates to realignment.

In a statement, the NCAA said: "President Emmert has had conversations with a number of presidents and commissioners related to recent conference realignment issues and those discussions mirror many of the topics raised last week [when Emmert stressed a need to restore order and common sense to college sports]."

It also came on the same day The Perryman Group released a report suggesting a Texas A&M departure from the existing Big 12, with no replacement team, would create a loss of 3,050 jobs and $217.2 million in output (gross product) annually in Texas. Ray Perryman, president and CEO of the group, is a Baylor graduate.

With A&M in wait-and-see mode, at least publicly, Texas' House Higher Education Committee postponed today's scheduled public hearing about the school's SEC-related plans. Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, issued a statement saying lawmakers had "no immediate need" to tackle the topic after Sunday's announcement by SEC officials.

In a 14-minute interview following Monday's regents meeting, Loftin made it clear the Aggies have lots to ponder before pulling the trigger on a move to another conference. One significant obstacle: forfeiture of 90 percent of league-related revenues over a two-year period (last year and this year), as outlined under Big 12 bylaws, if the Aggies joined the SEC by the 2012 football season.

A league source indicated that figure could exceed $28 million, although Nebraska's negotiated buyout ($9.25) was less than half of its projected $19.37 million in revenues from its final two seasons of Big 12 membership. Loftin indicated similar negotiations could work for A&M.

"Obviously, money is important," Loftin said. "I've read the bylaws in the Big 12 and they are confusing to some extent. So there's a lot of room for us to talk about what that might mean."

Loftin also downplayed the significance of an A&M departure on the league's 13-year, $1.17 billion contract signed in April with Fox Sports.

"Were we to leave, there are a lot of schools that would like to be in the Big 12 and add value to it," Loftin said. "So we don't see the downside of that."

If A&M departs, likely replacement candidates include BYU, Houston, Air Force and TCU.

Although multiple A&M sources indicated nothing changed Monday from their perspective in regard to a possible move to the SEC, Texas Gov. Rick Perry told the Des Moines Register: "The SEC said they were happy with 12 [schools]. So I don't think anybody is going to be going anywhere. But it's their call. That's how that process works."

Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

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