Southeastern Conference officials passed Sunday on an opportunity to invite Texas A&M to join their 12-member league.
But it might be only a temporary delay for the Aggies, who will hold today's scheduled regents meeting in College Station in an effort to facilitate a move to the SEC.
In a statement issued Sunday by Florida President Bernie Machen, chairman of the SEC presidents and chancellors, Machen said league officials took no action in regard to A&M but acknowledged "future considerations may make it advantageous to expand." Machen said league officials "discussed criteria and process associated with expansion" but outlined no timetable for action.
Multiple A&M sources contacted Sunday said they were not surprised by the SEC's decision and characterized it as part of a process A&M must go through -- along with Tuesday's public hearing in Austin with Texas' House Committee on Higher Education -- to avoid potential legal snares associated with a move to another league.
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"These are extremely complex issues, and it is imperative that we proceed methodically and in the best interests of Texas A&M," A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement. "The regents will proceed with [today's] agenda item, which authorizes the president of Texas A&M to take all actions related to athletic conference alignment."
Loftin added that he would represent A&M at Tuesday's hearing in Austin with the committee that controls funding for the state's pubic institutions. Committee chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said A&M officials have told him the process of joining the SEC "may take up to two weeks," meaning Sunday's action by the SEC does not necessarily alter that timetable. A&M has yet to apply for SEC membership.
Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe told USA Today that both the SEC and A&M statements were "sufficiently ambiguous and open-ended to suggest that activity is going to continue."
At issue with Texas lawmakers will be the timing of discussions between A&M and the SEC, as well as who initiated them, to determine whether the SEC committed tortious interference in regard to A&M's TV contracts signed as a Big 12 member. If A&M leaves, the possibility exists that the value of the Big 12's 13-year, $1.17 billion agreement signed in April with Fox Sports could be diminished.
A league source said a cutback in revenues would be minimal if a replacement team is amenable to the network.
In addition, Big 12 sources confirmed that league bylaws would call for A&M to refund 90 percent of revenues distributed over its final two seasons if the Aggies left in time to play a 2012 football season in the SEC. That figure could exceed $28 million, based on current projections.
It is worth noting that both Nebraska and Colorado negotiated substantially discounted exit fees, with Nebraska paying $9.25 million to join the Big Ten based on projected revenues of $19.37 million from its final two seasons of Big 12 membership.
A comparable negotiated buyout for A&M would exceed $13 million. But all signs point to the Aggies being willing to take on that type of financial obligation to land in a league with equal revenue distribution for members and without the Longhorn Network, Texas' 24-hour channel in conjunction with ESPN that will pay the Longhorns $300 million over the next 20 years.
After the SEC meeting, Arkansas Chancellor Dave Gearhart told The Associated Press that A&M "did approach the SEC, not the other way around" -- an important point to establish to avoid potential lawsuits about the SEC raiding another conference. Gearhart also spoke highly of A&M, calling it "a great university, a great place."
Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said Sunday that Big 12 officials view a 10-team league as an optimal membership number going forward, with or without A&M. Ideally, they would prefer it to be with A&M, although Hocutt acknowledged being "disappointed" to see the Big 12 back in the position of answering questions about the league's viability so soon after losing Nebraska and Colorado.
"You address reality and move forward," Hocutt said. "We're confident the Big 12 is viable and will be in the future."
During a Sunday interview on ESPN Radio, Texas football coach Mack Brown addressed the possibility of A&M's departure. If it happens, Brown said: "Texas will be fine. I think the Big 12 will be fine regardless of what comes out of this, and we'll move forward."
If A&M departs, said one league source, realistic expansion targets include BYU, Houston, Air Force and TCU -- likely in that order.
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Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760