August 25, 2011

Texas A&M asks Big 12 to outline procedures for leaving league

Texas A&M has asked the Big 12 to outline the procedures it should follow if it decides to leave the conference.

Texas A&M has asked the Big 12 to outline the procedures it should follow if it decides to leave the conference, a move A&M President R. Bowen Loftin says may be “in the best long-term interests” of the school and the state.

In a letter dated Wednesday to Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, Loftin said A&M would support the Big 12’s efforts to seek a new member. Loftin did not mention the Southeastern Conference in his correspondence but acknowledged discussions with the SEC during an Aug. 15 news conference in College Station.

A&M’s move is viewed as the first of several steps the school must take to legally extricate itself from existing contracts with the Big 12 before it could accept an invitation from the SEC.

“As I have indicated previously, we are working very deliberately to act in the best long-term interests of both Texas A&M and the State of Texas. This truly is a 100-year decision,” Loftin said in a statement released Thursday by school officials. “While we understand the desire of all parties to quickly reach a resolution, these are extremely complex issues that we are addressing methodically.”

Loftin said A&M is “seeking to generate greater visibility nationwide for Texas A&M and our championship-caliber student-athletes, as well as secure the necessary and stable financial resources to support our athletic and academic programs. As a public university, Texas A&M owes it to the state’s taxpayers to maximize our assets and generate additional revenues both now and well into the future.”

A&M spokesman Jason Cook called Thursday’s action “the next step in a process” aimed at bringing clarity to a possible move.

A Big 12 source drew a parallel between A&M’s action and the initial letter that Nebraska sent to Big 12 officials last summer, saying the school intended to withdraw from the league, contingent upon an invitation from the Big Ten. Nebraska left soon thereafter and will compete as a Big Ten member this season.

In his letter to Beebe, Loftin said his correspondence was “not a notice of Texas A&M’s withdrawal from the Big 12” but an acknowledgment that the school is “exploring our options.”

Big 12 sources confirmed that, as part of the process of changing conferences, A&M must first withdraw from the Big 12, then apply to the SEC and receive approval from at least nine of the 12 existing members. At that point, A&M could accept an invitation.

John Sharp, A&M’s incoming chancellor, has supported a possible SEC move, calling it “a wonderful opportunity” for the school. A&M athletic director Bill Byrne issued a statement Thursday, seconding Loftin’s action.

“I support President Loftin and our governing board’s desire to explore all options regarding the future of Texas A&M,” Byrne said. “We all want what is best for the Aggies. I’ve met with all of our head coaches to keep them informed and we all remain excited and optimistic about the future of Texas A&M athletics.”

On his Twitter account, former A&M football coach R.C. Slocum, the winningest coach in school history, said: “This will prove to be an important day in the history of Texas A&M.”

At issue for A&M from a legal standpoint is how much the school would have to surrender in forfeited revenues if it leaves the Big 12. Under league bylaws, a move to the SEC by the start of the 2012 football season could cost more than $28 million, based on projected revenues.

But Nebraska surrendered only $9.25 million to leave the league last season, based on projected revenues of $19.37 million. A&M seeks a comparable discount and, during his Aug. 15 news conference, Loftin said league bylaws were “confusing” and left “a lot of room for interpretation.”

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