A former Texas governor urged the presidential candidate currently holding that position to take steps to avoid a "permanent mistake" by idly watching Texas A&M leave the Big 12 to join the Southeastern Conference.
Mark White, a Baylor graduate who served as Texas governor from 1983-87, said Wednesday that current Gov. Rick Perry, an A&M graduate, should join legislators in "cool reflection" -- and consider funding cutbacks -- aimed at keeping the Aggies in the Big 12 rather than exploring an expansion opportunity with the SEC.
"What I would urge the governor to do is ask A&M to sit down with their counterparts in Texas and work out their differences," White said in response to Monday's action by A&M regents to allow the school president to negotiate in regard to conference realignment just 14 months after the school broke off talks with the SEC to remain in the Big 12. "They don't have to act childlike and run off somewhere... A&M has a responsibility to taxpayers in this state. If you can show me where the state of Texas wins on this deal, I'd like to see it. I thought we'd put this to bed for 10 or 15 years [last summer]."
Hardly. The concept of conference realignment is alive and well to the point that Big 12 officials are bracing for A&M's potential departure and wondering what they can do to stop it.
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A&M President R. Bowen Loftin has said ongoing talks with the SEC began July 21 and were originated by the Aggies. Incoming Chancellor John Sharp has expressed public support for an SEC move, calling it "a wonderful opportunity" for the school. A&M sources said Wednesday the school has lawyers checking into the legal and financial ramifications of the move, which makes the timetable unclear for finalization.
Although Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe has indicated he might ask the league's board of governors to set a deadline for A&M to make a commitment about its future, league sources confirmed Wednesday there is no clear penalty to assess if A&M did not comply with such a demand.
One Big 12 source said: "There's nothing in our bylaws that addresses a situation like this." Nor were administrators from the league's 10 remaining schools asked to sign binding agreements last June, when the Big 12 agreed to move forward without Nebraska and Colorado. At the time, Beebe said the "trust between presidents and chancellors in this league is high enough to continue on" without signed documents.
That brings us to Wednesday, when Florida President Bernie Machen told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Sunday's tabling of action in regard to expansion by SEC administrators represented a "speed bump in a fast-moving process with Texas A&M" made necessary by Perry's comments last week about A&M's interest in joining the SEC.
What has to happen before A&M makes a move? Here's a list:
School officials must apply for admission to the SEC and receive at least nine favorable votes from the 12-member league. SEC administrators want to be sure the Aggies are free of potential legal entanglements that could scuttle the move.
A&M must prepare itself to lose roughly $28 million in Big 12 revenues, under league bylaws, if it wants to play an SEC football schedule in 2012.
A&M needs to convince Texas lawmakers the move is in the best interest of the state. By postponing, rather than canceling, Tuesday's scheduled public hearing with the Texas House Higher Education Committee, the committee can reschedule the session without another five-day posting -- a move that could expedite the Aggies' departure date if an SEC invitation surfaces.
White challenged committee members, along with Perry, to take a hard look at evidence regarding whether Texas taxpayers would be better-served with A&M as the state's lone team in the SEC. He cited a study by The Perryman Group suggesting a Texas A&M departure from the 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.
White called A&M's potential move to the SEC "a permanent mistake made that would extend for generations." Asked about his thoughts being tempered by his Baylor loyalties, White said: "That's certainly true. But I wouldn't feel so strongly if I hadn't been paying taxes to fund A&M."
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760