COLLEGE STATION -- Texas A&M's desired move to the Southeastern Conference is on hold because of possible legal action by Baylor and other Big 12 schools.
The move, one A&M official said Wednesday, equates to the Aggies "being held hostage" in a league they want to leave after receiving a conditional invitation Tuesday night to join the SEC.
The condition? A&M must have "no contractual hindrances to its departure" from the Big 12, based on a statement released Wednesday by Florida President Bernie Machen, chairman of the SEC presidents and chancellors.
That issue became clouded Tuesday night, Machen said, when SEC officials learned there was "at least one Big 12 institution ... considering legal action" related to A&M's impending departure and its impact on the 13-year, $1.17 billion television agreement signed in April by Big 12 schools -- including A&M -- with Fox Sports. Multiple Big 12 sources identified Baylor as the school leading the legal charge.
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The potential for litigation caused the SEC to issue a conditional invitation to A&M and remained a point of contention during a Wednesday conference call of Big 12 presidents. The call came shortly after A&M canceled plans for a grand announcement of its SEC move at Kyle Field.
A participant on the call said presidents from three Big 12 schools -- Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas -- indicated they were no longer willing to waive their rights to legal claims against A&M and the SEC, which Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe referenced as being the case in a Sept. 2 letter to SEC commissioner Mike Slive.
In the letter, Beebe wrote that "the Big 12 and its members will not take any legal action or any possible claims against the SEC or its members" in regard to A&M joining the SEC as long as the move was completed by Sept. 8. After Wednesday's conference call, Beebe issued a statement saying the Big 12 waiver "did not and could not bind the individual member institutions' governing boards to waive institutional rights."
Of the six presidents from schools other than A&M on Wednesday's call, only one volunteered a willingness to continue waiving his school's legal rights to allow the Aggies to join the SEC, said a call participant. The unexpected turn in less than 24 hours effectively scuttled A&M's conditional bid to join the SEC, at least for the time being, and drew a terse statement from A&M President R. Bowen Loftin.
"We are disappointed in the threats made... to coerce Texas A&M into staying in the Big 12," Loftin said in a statement released by school officials. "These actions go against the commitment that was made by this university and the Big 12 on Sept. 2. We are working diligently to resolve any and all issues as outlined by the SEC."
Loftin later called the apparent change of heart by fellow Big 12 members a "violation of trust" that was "difficult to digest."
One Big 12 official countered that it was "the SEC holding this up, not Baylor" because of the unusual request to require waivers of legal claims as a condition of A&M's acceptance -- a step Beebe deemed unprecedented, to the best of his knowledge, in conference realignment.
Beebe defended the schools that declined to waive their legal rights to expedite A&M's move.
"If the departure of Texas A&M results in significant changes in Big 12 membership, several institutions may be severely affected," Beebe said, noting that schools have committed "millions of dollars" to facility upgrades based on projected TV revenues with A&M in the mix.
What happens next?
"The situation is extremely fluid," said Jason Cook, A&M's vice president of marketing and communications.
For at least one day, the stunning events on the A&M-SEC front slowed the momentum of widespread conference realignment with the Big 12 at the epicenter of the shift. During Wednesday's conference call, a participant said Oklahoma President David Boren outlined his school's ongoing realignment efforts and indicated the process could take up to three weeks.
Oklahoma has been identified as part of a potential four-team shift of Big 12 schools -- along with Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech -- to an expanded Pac-12. But sources from two schools in that mix said Wednesday's turn of events could slow that momentum.
"Until the deal is solved with A&M, there's not going to be any movement by anybody," said one source.
Texas Tech President Guy Bailey said: "Recent events have put conference discussions in a holding pattern."
A possible remedy to the league's ongoing stalemate could include Oklahoma and Oklahoma State making long-term commitments to the Big 12, which would then prompt the holdout schools to waive legal claims against A&M. Then, the Aggies could move to the SEC and a nine-team Big 12 could explore expansion plans
Several SEC presidents, who unanimously approved A&M's conditional bid on Tuesday night, left open the door Wednesday to adding the Aggies at a later date.
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Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760