Texas A&M officially notified Big 12 officials Wednesday that it will depart pending acceptance by another conference, with plans to leave the Big 12 by June 30, 2012.
In a letter to Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe, dated Wednesday, A&M President R. Bowen Loftin wrote that "it is in the best interest of Texas A&M" to seek membership in another league. He added that the university appreciates the Big 12's "willingness to engage in a dialogue to end our relationship through a mutually agreeable settlement" rather than seeking litigation and expressed a desire to make A&M's exit "as amicable and prompt as possible" for all parties.
A news release distributed by school officials did not mention the Southeastern Conference, but Loftin has acknowledged ongoing talks with administrators from that league. An A&M spokesman said Wednesday that school officials are not working on a specific timetable in regard to applying for SEC membership, the next step A&M must take to join the league. Approval by nine of 12 existing league members would be required. From all indications, A&M has the necessary votes. School officials may wait to apply until after Sunday's football game against SMU.
A&M becomes the third school in 14 months to announce plans to leave the Big 12, with Wednesday's announcement possibly triggering another round of conference realignment in college athletics and raising questions about the Big 12's future.
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Former Big 12 schools Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) are first-year members of new conferences this year. In a statement, Beebe said administrators of the nine remaining league schools are committed to the Big 12 and will aggressively explore expansion options.
Texas men's athletic director DeLoss Dodds expressed confidence in the league's future and reaffirmed his school's plans to be a part of it.
"We are strong supporters and members of the Big 12. Recent events have not altered our confidence in the league," Dodds said in a statement. Dodds said the league's expansion committee, created Tuesday, will shape "the future of the conference so it will continue to be one of the top leagues in the country."
The league's top three expansion targets are believed to be Notre Dame, Arkansas and Brigham Young, with BYU -- an independent in football with no direct access to a BCS bowl berth -- considered the most viable option. A league source said Wednesday that Big 12 officials feel they have to approach Notre Dame, also an independent in football, to gauge interest before finalizing expansion strategy.
On Monday Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said his school's priority is to remain an independent in football and a Big East member in other sports.
BYU officials said in a statement Wednesday that speculation about conference realignment "seems to change by the hour" and that commenting "on such conjecture is not productive and creates a distraction for our program." The statement did not discount possible interest in the Big 12 but said the school is focused on playing this season as an independent in football.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, who almost enticed Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to his league last summer, said the conference has no plans to expand.
Multiple Big 12 administrators have expressed a desire to continue as a 10-member league barring a push from TV executives to return to a 12-team format. Other expansion possibilities include Pittsburgh, Louisville, Houston and Air Force.
Under Big 12 bylaws, A&M would forfeit roughly $28 million in revenues if it left in time to compete in the SEC for the 2012 football season. League sources have indicated a willingness to negotiate a lower figure -- probably between $15 million and $20 million -- that could be deducted from A&M's projected revenues for the 2011-12 school year ($19 million to $20 million). No final figure has been reached, Big 12 and A&M sources said, with arbitration an option.
Although A&M officials expressed concerns this summer about issues related to the Longhorn Network, Texas' new 24-hour channel in conjunction with ESPN, Loftin said the desire for greater national visibility and "stable financial resources" were the driving forces behind the decision to leave the Big 12. The SEC shares conference revenues equally, unlike the Big 12, and football teams from that league have combined to win the last five BCS national championships.
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, said moving would be a positive step for his alma mater.
"As an Aggie, I look forward to Texas A&M joining the Southeastern Conference," Barton said. "The SEC has a long, storied athletic tradition in all sports. I think the increased exposure Texas A&M will receive will bring deserved attention -- not only to our sports teams -- but to our outstanding academic programs."
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