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August 12, 2011

A&M may be gone by time lawmakers meet

The House Higher Education Committee has scheduled a hearing to take up the issue of Texas A&M's possible move to the SEC at 2 p.m. on Aug. 16.

But that hearing may come too late to stop the Aggies from bolting the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. The Texas A&M Board of Regents has posted a meeting scheduled for Monday, Aug. 15, to discuss "conference alignment."

Sources close to A&M indicate the nine-member regents board will vote to leave for the SEC. The SEC presidents are expected to talk on Saturday in a special gathering to discuss A&M becoming the 13th member of that conference, according to sources.

Under state law, the regents only need 72 hours to post a public meeting, while a legislative committee needs five days to post a public meeting.

The House Higher Education Committee posted its notice for an Aug. 16 meeting on Thursday. The A&M regents posted their meeting on Friday in what appears to be a calculated maneuver to out-flank lawmakers. According to sources, the original plan was for the Texas A&M board of regents to meet on Aug. 22 to take up a possible move to the SEC.


Committee chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Two officials at Big 12 schools said the SEC is in talks with Florida State about becoming the 14th member of the SEC.

If Texas A&M was to leave the Big 12, the initial indication is that the remaining nine schools will stay together and possibly add a school to replace Texas A&M, sources said.

Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds said on Friday afternoon that he hasn't heard final word on A&M's future, but he and the other Big 12 schools are weighing all options.

"At this point we do not know if Texas A&M is leaving the Big 12," Dodds said in a statement. "All we know is what we read and hear in the media. We are actively looking at every possible option we have and have been talking to other Big 12 schools. We are strong supporters and members of the Big 12. We'd be disappointed if Texas A&M leaves but, if they do, we wish them well."

According to sources, the SEC has reached out to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State as well. But several league sources indicate Texas and OU will stay together in the Big 12.

One administrator at a Big 12 school said he expected Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott to see if Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would be interested in joining the Pac-12 with a regional network in their state as well as Texas possibly its Longhorn Network into a regional network in the Pac-12 with Texas Tech.

Scott expressed in an e-mail response to Orangebloods.com that he is "fully focused on developing the Pac-12" and would have no further comment.


One Big 12 school official said Texas and Oklahoma would be "fools" to leave the Big 12 now because the league still has a BCS bid and may present the easiest road to the national championship game without a title game to play.

"Texas A&M should have been in the top three in the Big 12 every year," the official said. "In the SEC, A&M will probably struggle to get into the top seven."


Branch also called a hearing last year when it appeared the Big 12 could break up with Texas and Texas Tech headed to the Pac-10 and Texas A&M headed to the SEC. But the Big 12 came together before the scheduled hearing.

Those being invited to the Aug. 16 hearing will include Texas A&M board of regents chairman, Richard Box, a dentist in Austin; and A&M president R. Bowen Loftin.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive will be invited, and members of the committee have indicated they'd like to know when discussions between Texas A&M and the SEC were initiated, and by whom, to determine if there may be any tortious interference with a contract between Texas A&M and the Big 12's television partners.

There's a chance Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor officials would be invited to talk about the potential fallout of an A&M departure. Questions for Texas would undoubtedly include the Longhorn Network, which has been a public concern for A&M officials.

"We want to be in position to have a discussion about a potential move to a new athletic conference for one of our major universities - that it's in the best interest of the state of Texas," Branch told Orangebloods.com.

"There's a lot of resources in play. These athletic programs have a lot of dollars involved with the TV contracts and the funding that comes from a particular conference. So we want to make sure if there was a decision to go a different direction at Texas A&M, it's the regents' job to make sure this is in the best interest of Texas A&M as one university in that system. And it's the Legislature's job to make sure it's in the best interest in the state of Texas."

I asked Branch if the committee found that such a move wasn't in the best interest of Texas, what could the Legislature do about it?

"Ultimately, these are public institutions," Branch said. "The Legislature is responsible for funding and directing the ultimate policy of our public institutions.

"So I think it's important that the Legislature be advised. And so I want to create an opportunity on a timely basis to give the members of the House of Representatives the opportunity to ask questions and make sure they felt like this was in the best interest of the state of Texas.

"There's an argument that going to the SEC would be a good thing so that Texas' biggest schools would have a footprint in two major conferences, so I'm going into this with an open mind. But it seems to me it's the regents' responsibility to do what's in the best interest of Texas A&M as the flagship of that system. And it's the Legislature's responsibility to make sure it's in the best interest of the state of Texas."

Branch said there are really two points of interest that are critical to the state's view of a possible move by Texas A&M to the SEC.

"Part of that goes to you don't want another major conference coming undone by the action of one," Branch said. "So there's two parts to this. One, is this a good move for Texas A&M?

"And, more importantly, from our vantage point would there be a negative consequence to the University of Texas or Texas Tech University and even our private schools like Baylor - what effect it could have on them?"

Stay tuned.

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