SEC didn't close door on Texas A&M, it's letting process play out
A release from the SEC is being misconstrued to state it is passing on Texas A&M
Any SEC vote would have to wait until A&M went through the proper channels
The next step comes Monday when A&M's regents discuss conference affiliation
The problem with the speed at which information travels in this era is that everything has to mean something immediately. In the Twitter age, we must be able to consume information, process it and explain what it means in the grand scheme of things within seconds. In the world of Internet journalism, it also helps if we can just as quickly declare each event to be either the best or worst thing that has ever happened.
Unfortunately, the world doesn't always hand us news in byte-sized chunks. Sometimes, an issue requires more time to resolve itself than our social media-addled attention spans are willing to give. Case in point: Sunday's press release from Florida president Bernie Machen on behalf of the SEC. Here is what it said.
"The SEC Presidents and Chancellors met today and reaffirmed our satisfaction with the present 12 institutional alignment. We recognize, however, that future conditions may make it advantageous to expand the number of institutions in the league. We discussed criteria and process associated with expansion. No action was taken with respect to any institution including Texas A&M."
Within seconds, Texas A&M's quest to leave the Big 12 and join the SEC was declared dead. Texas fans cranked up the "little brother" jokes, and the Aggies became the laughingstock of the sporting world. Someone even hacked the Twitter account -- it must have been a hacker, right? -- of colleague Stewart Mandel to proclaim to the world that the SEC had "PASSED" on Texas A&M.
Except that's not what the release said. The language was pure legalese meant to slow a boulder rolling downhill. Here's a more accurate translation.
If we can make more money from our TV contracts, we're probably going to expand. But no one has applied for membership yet. So we didn't vote today. If we had voted to extend an offer to a school that hadn't applied for membership, we might have left ourselves exposed to a big, fat lawsuit. So don't sue us, Big 12. If someone, perhaps a land-grant institution based in College Station, Texas, happens to authorize its president to seek new conference membership -- maybe at a special Board of Regents meeting Monday afternoon -- and that president happens to ask us to consider his school for membership, then we might strongly consider that school.
This is a process. The Texas A&M Board of Regents is still scheduled to meet Monday. The item that would authorize R. Bowen Loftin to negotiate athletic conference membership remains on the agenda. Other issues also require resolution. The higher education committee of the Texas House of Representatives still plans to question Loftin in Austin on Tuesday afternoon about a possible move. In a statement released Sunday, Loftin said everything will move forward as planned.
"As we have seen over the past several days, there has been a considerable amount of misinformation regarding these discussions and any associated timelines," Loftin said in the statement. "The chairman of our board has indicated that the regents will proceed with tomorrow's agenda item, which authorizes the president of Texas A&M to take all actions related to athletic conference alignment. I will also accept Chairman [Dan] Branch's invitation to participate in his committee's hearing on Tuesday. These are extremely complex issues, and it is imperative that we proceed methodically and in the best interests of Texas A&M."
Contrary to popular belief, the politicians didn't set this meeting to block a move. When I relayed a quote from Texas Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas) on Twitter on Saturday, a lot of Texas A&M fans wrote to remind me that Branch had previously praised Texas' Longhorn Network -- the entity that started the realignment wheel moving again in the first place -- as an innovative way to open a revenue stream without costing the state's taxpayers a penny. Guess what? If Texas A&M goes to the SEC for more money, Branch will praise the Aggies, too. He knows he serves in a fiscally conservative state. He knows he wouldn't win votes by blocking a school for looking out for its own best interests and bringing in more money that might potentially relieve some of the burden on the taxpayers. Plus, if the Big 12 can hang together without Texas A&M -- and it appears it can -- then the state might get another bonus if Houston or SMU gets an invitation to college football's grown-up table.
If people would take off the school-colored glasses for a moment, they would understand this is all about a school looking after its own best interests. Last year, Texas looked out for No. 1 by flirting with the Pac-10 and then returning to the Big 12 when the Big 12 schools agreed to a system that would allow the creation of The Longhorn Network. This year, Texas A&M is looking out for No. 1. That's the American way.
Texas and Texas A&M people want badly for everyone to believe the other school is the villain, but there is no villain here. Be soothed by the smooth strains of Dave Mason, who once crooned these wise words: "So let's leave it alone/'Cause we can't see eye-to-eye/There ain't no good guy/There ain't no bad guy/There's only you and me, and we just disagree"
Also, this is not about on-field results. Texas A&M is not looking to move because officials think that by being in the SEC, the football team will immediately begin winning national titles. The Aggies want to move because they are tired of being pushed around off the field by the Longhorns. They fear The Longhorn Network's impact. Also, they can make more money in the SEC. Think about it this way. If you had a boss or co-worker -- in this case, Texas is officially a co-worker and unofficially the boss -- who made you miserable, wouldn't you jump immediately if you could take an identical job at a different company for more money? Of course you would. Anyone who answers otherwise is a liar.
There is more money for Texas A&M in the SEC. In fact, Texas A&M probably is more valuable to the SEC than it is to the Big 12. Remember, the SEC signed media rights deals in 2009 with CBS and ESPN worth $3 billion over 15 years. While that sounded like a great deal at the time, the market has changed because of several new bidders and an even greater premium placed on live sports telecast rights. Earlier this year, the Pac-12 signed a deal with Fox worth a reported $3 billion over 12 years. The SEC should be a more valuable television property than the Pac-12, so imagine how much the league could make if it were to renegotiate its contracts now. Now, imagine how much those deals would be worth if the population of the SEC's geographic footprint suddenly increased by 42 percent. That's how many potential viewers the SEC would add by including a major Texas team. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the current nine-state SEC footprint contains 58.6 million people. The state of Texas contains 24.8 million people. The current SEC footprint has one top-10 TV market (Atlanta). The state of Texas has two (Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston).
A change in membership would allow the SEC to renegotiate, commissioner Mike Slive said when asked about the topic in June 2010. "Most of our contracts have confidentiality clauses, so I'll answer this somewhat indirectly," Slive said. "It is not unusual in these kinds of contracts for there to be a provision that if the composition of the league changes, there's an opportunity to sit down and talk about that with our television partner."
That could be a very expensive conversation for CBS and ESPN and a very lucrative one for the SEC and Texas A&M. But it's not a conversation anyone can have right now.
Steps must be followed. Regents must vote to empower a school president. Politicians must be acknowledged. Admission must be sought. SEC presidents must vote. Nine of the 12 must actually want to accept the new member. All the while, attorneys must be consulted. Only after all that can Texas A&M join the SEC.
Marc Isenberg, an author who follows the business of college sports, tweeted it best Sunday afternoon. "Another day in college sports," Isenberg wrote, "another victory for billable hours."
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