June 10, 2010

All eyes turn towards College Station

The buzz has been loud over the course of the last few hours after our report regarding Texas A&M's interest in joining the SEC.

First, before we do anything else, let's make one thing clear - we're not at DEFCON 1 here. Probably more like a DEFCON 2 ... Although there's a lot of rhetoric flying around in a lot of different directions, there aren't any weapons pointing at each other from Austin to College Station.

Oh, the possibility exists that we could get to a DEFCON 1 level, but we're not there yet. There's still a feeling that when the dust settles over the course of the next week, the Aggies will join the four other members of the Big 12 South block that is expected to land in an expanded version of the Pac-10 Conference.

More than any tense feelings between the Longhorns and the Aggies, it seems like the real battle that's brewing in-state is an in-house test of wills between two different factions within the Aggie family.

The general thinking around the state has always been that Texas governor Rick Perry has been the real powerbroker in every move that is made by the school, but it's quite possible that he's created a situation where two of his most trusted allies are suddenly fighting him on the direction of this debate.

According to two sources we've spoken with, the trio of A&M regent Gene Stallings, A&M system chancellor Mike McKinney and most recently R.C. Slocum are really pushing hard for the Aggies to move to the SEC and they've reportedly found an open ear in new A&M president R. Bowen Loftin, who is brand new to the post.

While those three are pushing the SEC hard, Perry is not for any move that separates Texas and Texas A&M, and make no mistake about it - A&M heading to the SEC would create a two-mile gap of separation. Where this thing really starts to get interesting is when you break down the relationship between powerbrokers that are at odds.

McKinney and Perry are boys and there's no question that McKinney wouldn't be in his current position of A&M system president without the support of Perry. At some point, it's inconceivable that McKinney wouldn't back Perry when pushes comes to shove.

Meanwhile, Stallings was appointed to his position by Perry, although his run as a regent is about to end (2/1/2011).

If McKinney has a reason to be loyal to Perry, Stallings really doesn't and it's likely one of the reasons why the former Alabama coach has been making a public airwaves crusade throughout Thursday's chaos in an effort move momentum to his side.

For a guy that has a foot out the door in his current position, Stallings is making some real problems for those that would have to clean up his mess.

According to two sources, If Perry can get his house in order, this thing will be up to DEFCON 5 pretty quickly and A&M will join the other Big 12 South schools in the new Pac-10 Conference. The feeling from those that Orangebloods.com has spoken with tonight is that all of this public posturing by Stallings today will become moot when it's time for a decision to be made.

However, if Stallings can continue to crack away at the consensus opinion that A&M needs to be attached to UT's hip, and if Perry struggles to regain control of this entire discussion, all bets could be off next week.

Two sources told me late Thursday afternoon that it has been expressed to the Aggies that a move to the SEC would be viewed as an athletics act of war because it is important to the other schools involved to keep the SEC out of this state as a major presence - both in recruiting and in terms of market reach. Although there haven't been any hard line threats, there's a feeling from all of the schools from the Big 12 South that A&M would become dead to them as an athletics partner and it's very likely that they wouldn't be scheduled by Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in any sport… for a very, very long time.

When we talk about the loss of tradition in this move for A&M, we're not talking about the school song or the bonfire. We're talking about the ability to pursue any existing competition in any sport - not in football, basketball, baseball, poker, lawn darts… nothing.

No more Lone Star State Showdown.

Also, my sources indicate that this is not a UT-led initiative and that all of the schools are in firm agreement that an A&M move to the SEC would need to be met with pretty stiff repercussions.

The bottom line is that there will be a lot of political jostling over the course of the next few days and into early next week. Look for the other four schools to sit back, watch and wait for Texas A&M to figure out who they are.

Texas wants A&M sitting shotgun on the ride to the Pac-10. If A&M wants out of the car, they won't be let back in.

Again, it's not DEFCON 1, but it's not DEFCON 5, either.

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