Did you hear the one about the Aggies who took thirteen months to figure out the college football pecking order?
But enough about the Board of Regents. . .
The Big 12 season kicks off in two weeks, with TCU at Baylor on September 2 and Rice at Texas on September 3, but instead of getting psyched for SMU at Texas A&M September 4, we’re wondering when the Aggies will be hosting Vanderbilt or Auburn. Threatening to leave the Big 12 for the SEC? Didn’t we just do this last year?
Yes, but A&M’s desire to go (south)east never subsided. The Longhorn Network’s attempt to broadcast high school action, and its plan to carry one Big 12 game, simply gave the Aggies a new out. But it won’t come without costs or complications—plus they look a little dim for helping UT save the Big 12 in the first place. They’re also easy targets for such tweets as this one from the New York Times’ Pete Thamel: “Entire college landscape could shift thanks to a program that hasn’t won a league title since 1998 and has one bowl win since 1995. #Gigem.”
Indeed, while many columnists have noted that the Aggies would be middle-of-the pack in the much tougher SEC, they were already that in the Big 12. But things change—look at 5–7 Texas last year—and A&M, which is starting the season ranked 9th in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, is taking a much longer view. Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin calls the move a “100-year decision,” though given recent history, who’s to say these current conferences will last more than a decade?
Ever eager for another Aggie joke, UT fans were quick to laugh over the SEC’s big non-announcement Sunday, but that was really just a bit of CYA public relations. The process is still happening, even if the endgame is unknown. On Monday, the A&M Board of Regents authorized Loftin to explore realignment possibilities, while A&M chancellor-in-waiting John Sharp endorsed the notion in a Texas Tribune interview. TEXAS MONTHLY’s Paul Burka went so far as to assert that Rick Perry is actively involved in the decision. “Rumor has it y’all may be hearing that Aggie fight song a little more often,” the Governor enthused to Republicans in Birmingham, Alabama on the eve of his presidential campaign announcement. Once a yell leader, always a yell leader.
Our September cover package basically spends 26 pages saying there’s no better brand of college football than Texas college football. But while we’ll never deny ourselves that particular strain of Lone Star State exceptionalism, the truth is there is no such thing as Texas college football. That trend started when the Southwest Conference ended and was hastened by the invention of the BCS. (Both of those things also devalued the Cotton Bowl.) Recruiting is national. TV is national. Even fan bases are national: if Notre Dame is the New York Yankees, that makes the Horns, a merchandise behemoth, college football’s Red Sox Nation. Having its own ESPN-partnered TV network only strengthens the brand.
Meanwhile, TCU is about be in the same conference as Villanova (and was already in one with UNLV), BYU has been named as a possible Big 12 addition, and last year, UT seemed perfectly prepared to join a conference full of California schools, a scenario the Austin American-Statesman’s Kirk Bohls still thinks could happen. There are no regions. It is all one sport.
So for Texas college football overall, A&M’s move to the SEC should be win-win. It makes Texas football bigger, and it allows the state’s two flagship universities to get TV and bowl money from twice as many conferences and networks. For fans with no loyalty to one team or the other, it also seems like lagniappe (and not just when LSU’s involved). On an average Saturday, I’d be more likely to watch an A&M–Florida game on CBS than a Florida–Mississippi State game. And then there will still be Horns and Texas Tech and Oklahoma games on ABC.
A&M’s Loftin says it could be a long process, but Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe begs to differ. “There has to be a very short time for an institution to commit,” he told the Dallas Morning News.
Even if A&M’s SECession is a given, there’s still one giant question mark: the future of the annual Longhorns–Aggies game. For the sport to go without it seems unthinkable—but at one time, so was the thought of college football without Nebraska–Oklahoma, a rivalry that lost most of its heat in the Big 12 and now lies dormant with the Huskers’ move to the Big 10.
“Why would Texas continue to schedule A&M in anything if the Aggies walk out on the Longhorns?” asked ESPN’s Pat Forde. A&M might counter that if UT hadn’t been, to quote CBSSports.com columnist Greg Doyel, “repulsively greedy and self-serving,” they wouldn’t have to leave. But that’s not much of a negotiating tactic.
If the point of A&M’s departure is to put them on more equal footing with UT, how far will UT go out of its way to help A&M get there? Especially if they can replace the Aggies with an extra home game against a weaker opponent—and that opponent agrees to a Longhorn Network broadcast. If UT played the same SEC school every year, they’d be less likely to schedule other good non-conference foes like Notre Dame and USC. (The Horns are also slated to play Arkansas and Mississippi in upcoming years).
Unsurprisingly, the Aggies want the rivalry to keep on going. It’s hard to shake the shadow of your biggest rival when your greatest rituals, cheers, and songs revolve around them. Perhaps Governor Perry also should have told the crowd in Birmingham he planned to revise the “Aggie War Hymn” lyrics (“So long to the crimson and white?”). “Saw ‘Em Off” doesn’t quite work for Georgia’s mascot, Uga, unless you’re trying to stop him from producing a bulldog-collie litter with Reveille.
The way this should work: Beebe and Texas make the continuation of the series a condition of the Aggies’ smooth departure from the Big 12, on terms that favor the Big 12. But if A&M was looking to do Texas and the Big 12 favors, they wouldn’t have to leave.
So how will it actually work? Out on a limb prediction (and I’m happy to be wrong): we’ll see Texas Tech play Texas A&M (“State Farm Presents ‘The-Just-to-Spite-UT Showdown!’”) sooner than we’ll see Texas–Texas A&M. Unless, that is, the two teams end up in the 2013 Cotton Bowl.