Before we shovel dirt on the existing Big 12, with creation of the Longhorn Network identified as the cause of death, let's tap the brakes on SEC-ession talk and focus on a time-honored adage.
Be careful what you wish for. It could happen.
Those words ring true today for fans of Texas A&M in light of ongoing speculation about the Aggies' possible bolt for the SEC.
A&M regents have an Aug. 22 conference call scheduled, school officials confirmed Thursday, with the agenda in flux until Aug. 19. If A&M wants to green-light a move to the SEC, where the Aggies wouldn't have to deal with the ramifications of Texas' 20-year, $300 million network in conjunction with ESPN, that seems like the fastest opportunity to reach closure. And that sounds like the plan.
Lots of A&M fans will be rooting for that to happen and, at this point, I'd consider it more than a 50-50 proposition the Aggies head in that direction.
Sources close to the situation confirmed multiple meetings in recent months between A&M and SEC officials, with one source acknowledging a planned Saturday meeting of SEC presidents to discuss a possible invitation to A&M.
Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe has said he takes the A&M-to-the-SEC rumors "very seriously" and all signs pointed Thursday night to the Aggies favoring such a move. If A&M leaves, the Big 12's contingency plan would be to operate as a nine-member league.
But is it really worth changing conferences to avoid co-existing with a network that, as of Thursday, saw its long-range plans to televise high school games scuttled by an NCAA ruling that such telecasts violate existing bylaws? In a conference call, NCAA President Mark Emmert said "current bylaws do not support" telecasts of high school games on single-school or conference networks.
Also: Is the hammer that Texas wields in Big 12 meetings, thanks to ESPN's deep pockets, really more ominous than the hammer that awaits the A&M football program -- which last won a conference title in 1998 -- in the SEC? Four different SEC teams have combined to win the past five BCS national championships, as well as six of the past eight. A&M is 0-6 in its past six encounters with SEC opponents.
Before the Aggies surrender the opportunity to be Big 12 title contenders in football on a regular basis, regents need to weigh the danger of becoming SEC cannon fodder. That's what happened to Arkansas, another former Southwest Conference member still seeking its first SEC football title in its 20th year in its new league.
How serious a threat is the Longhorn Network, in the grand scheme of things? During a recent interview, ESPN analyst Bob Davie, a former Notre Dame coach (1997-2001) and former A&M assistant (1985-93), downplayed its significance based on his experience at Notre Dame in the early days of the school's NBC TV contract.
"When I first went to Notre Dame as an assistant in 1994, I thought the NBC contract would be a much bigger deal, quite honestly, than it was," Davie said. "I'm just talking in terms of recruiting and the impact it has on players and young kids. It's almost no impact now to kids because just about every game is on television. Will Texas win more games in football because of the Longhorn Network? I don't think so. In the end, is it going to make that much difference to that great tailback from Southlake Carroll or wherever? I don't think so."
Yet the impending launch of the Longhorn Network seems to be carrying the day in A&M's deliberations about heading to the SEC. Although I concur with A&M President R. Bowen Loftin, who hailed Thursday's NCAA ruling banning high school telecasts on school-run networks as being "in the best interests of ... the entire NCAA membership," it's hard to view the existence of the LHN as reason enough for A&M to bolt to the SEC.
The Aggies make plenty of money in the Big 12, where they have established rivalries and a better chance to compete for conference and national championships on an annual basis than they would in the SEC.
Before pulling any triggers, I'd suggest A&M regents take a long, hard look at what they truly have in the Big 12 and weigh that against what might happen as an SEC member. The status quo might start looking a little better than the destination on the wish list of many A&M fans.
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Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760