Threatened lawsuit delays Texas A&M move to SEC

Posted Wednesday, Sep. 07, 2011  comments  Print Reprints
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Texas A&M’s desired move to the Southeastern Conference is on hold because of a threatened lawsuit by Baylor.

In a statement released this morning, SEC officials confirmed that the league took action Tuesday night and “voted unanimously to accept Texas A&M University as a member upon receiving acceptable reconfirmation” that Big 12 members stood by a Sept. 2 letter assuring there would be no legal action involved with the move.

The statement, issued by Florida president Bernie Machen, chairman of the SEC presidents and chancellors, said “at least one Big 12 institution had withdrawn its previous consent and was considering legal action.” Multiple Big 12 sources have identified that school as Baylor.

In correspondence last month between Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe and A&M president R. Bowen Loftin, both parties agreed to mutual waivers of legal claims. That information was relayed to the SEC in the Sept. 2 letter referenced in the statement. But the Big 12’s waiver must be agreed to by all members.

A&M had planned a formal announcement of its move today in College Station. Big 12 schools are expected to discuss the issue today. If Baylor chooses not to pursue legal action, the Aggies’ move to the SEC would become official.

Jason Cook, A&M’s vice-president of marketing and communications, confirmed this morning that the school has “no announcement scheduled at this time.” Big 12 spokesman Bob Burda said league officials were gathering information to assess “where this might be going.”

In the statement, SEC officials said: “After receiving written assurance from the Big 12 on September 2 that the Southeastern Conference was free to accept Texas A&M to join as a new member, the presidents and chancellors of the SEC met last night with the intention of accepting the application of Texas A&M to be the newest member of the SEC. We were notified yesterday afternoon that at least one Big 12 institution had withdrawn its previous consent and was considering legal action. The SEC has stated that to consider an institution for membership, there must be no contractual hindrances to its departure. The SEC voted unanimously to accept Texas A&M University as a member upon receiving acceptable reconfirmation that the Big 12 and its members have reaffirmed the letter dated September 2, 2011.”

In the Sept. 2 letter to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, Beebe wrote that the Big 12’s board of directors “unanimously authorize me to convey to you and their colleagues in the Southeastern Conference that the Big 12 and its members will not take any legal action or any possible claims against the SEC or its members relating to the departure of Texas A&M University from the Big 12 and the admission of Texas A&M into the SEC; provided, however, that such act by the SEC to admit Texas A&M is publicly confirmed by 5:00 p.m. (CDT) on Sept. 8. 2011. Such admission of Texas A&M will result in the withdrawal of Texas A&M from the Big 12 conference effective June 30, 2012. We both agreed it is in the best interests of each of our conferences and our member institutions of higher education to waive any and all legal actions.”

Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin issued a statement saying he was “pleased” by the vote of SEC officials but “disappointed” by the threat of legal action.

“We are certainly pleased with the action taken last night by the presidents and chancellors of the Southeastern Conference to unanimously accept Texas A&M … However, this acceptance is conditional,” Loftin said in his statement. “We are disappointed in the threats made by one of the Big 12 member institutions to coerce Texas A&M into staying in the Big 12. These actions go against the commitment that was made by this university and the Big 12 on Sept. 2. We are working diligently to resolve any and all issues as outlined by the SEC.”

Mississippi State president Mark Keenum told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that SEC officials learned of the potential legal snag roughly an hour before Tuesday’s meeting. Keenum called it “very frustrating.”

A Baylor spokesman said school officials are expected to release a statement later today.

The Big 12 board of directors began a teleconference during the noon hour to discuss the situation. There has been speculation that Baylor hopes to enlist other schools in their efforts to keep the league intact.

South Carolina president Harris Pastides issued a statement today emphasizing the importance of Texas A&M being added to the SEC without any lingering legal issues attached.

“I am very pleased with the current 12-university configuration of the Southeast Conference,” Pastides said. “But, if we are going to expand, a university of Texas A&M’s quality is a great choice. The conference has been very careful in its deliberations. As a league, we know that this is not something that will happen until all of the Big 12 universities are in agreement about Texas A&M’s withdrawal. It is prudent to wait to ensure that everyone is aligned. At the point that happens, I will join my colleagues in welcoming A&M.”

The Des Moines Register reported this afternoon that Iowa State officials have retained their legal rights in regard to possible claims against either the SEC or A&M. John McCarroll, an Iowa State spokesman, told the newspapers: “There has been no waiver of any legal rights.”

McCarroll, speaking for school president Gregory Geoffroy, also told the newspaper that no other Big 12 school has asked Iowa State to join a lawsuit against A&M or the SEC. McCarroll declined comment on whether Iowa State would waive its rights at some point.

This afternoon Beebe issued the following statement: “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. 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. Although they were not obligated to do so, the Big 12 Board of Directors decided to accommodate that request as it relates to The Big 12 Conference, Inc., which is reflected in the September 2 letter sent to SEC commissioner Mike Slive. However, the waiver did not and could not bind the individual member institutions’ governing boards to waive institutional rights. 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.”

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