Confession: before I was a Longhorn, I was an Aggie. Not officially—I never enrolled at Texas A&M. But I was a fan of the 12th Man growing up, and I owned and sometimes even wore a few items of maroon clothing. I remember idolizing the “Wrecking Crew” and cheering for Dat Nguyen, the undersized but unstoppable All-American linebacker. My junior year of high school, I went to an alumni club meeting at San Antonio’s Aggie Park to learn about the Corps of Cadets. In the end, even though my best friend wound up attending A&M, I didn’t; UT’s Plan II program drew me to Austin. But while that made me a tea-sip, I never could bring myself to hate the Aggies.
In fact, over the past few years I have developed a certain envy of the folks in College Station. In my previous job as editor of UT’s alumni magazine, I watched from a close vantage as A&M surged. Most famously, it broke out of UT’s athletic shadow when it left the Big 12 and entered the SEC. (Note: UT did win the final gridiron matchup and holds a 76-37-5 all-time lead in the series. Just sayin’.) From an academic standpoint, the College Station campus has been on a hiring spree of high-profile faculty, and the school’s research expenditures—a marker of academic heft—have passed UT-Austin’s. A&M is also in the middle of a building boom. And yet the university has managed to keep tuition down. At a time when more and more people worry about how they’ll afford college, recent rankings have listed A&M as among the best values in education. Not bad for a school that has long been the butt of dumb jokes.
The most important recent difference between the UT and A&M systems can be found in their respective administrations. Where UT has endured regental squabbles, presidential power struggles, hostility from former governor Rick Perry, and rocky relations with state legislators, A&M has quietly gone about the business of improving. Much of the credit for its rise belongs to John Sharp, an Aggie and former student body president whose familiarity with the Texas Legislature has been put to good use since he became chancellor, in 2011. This issue’s profile of Sharp by writer-at-large Michael Hardy gets us quite close to the man, who seems to have been built for the job. At the very least, he’s getting what he wants done and having fun doing it.
I’m still a Longhorn, which will never change. And seeing A&M build so much momentum has me feeling antsy and competitive. That’s the thing about any good rivalry: it makes both parties better. You don’t have to be an Aggie alumnus to recognize that A&M’s trying to outpace its peers is, ultimately, good for Texas.