Posted by Bryan Fischer
There's no place in the country like Texas A&M.
If you haven't had a chance to go to Midnight Yell or be in the stands at Kyle Field when they sway back and forth when the War Hymn is played, you should quickly add it to your bucket list.
The Aggies, excuse me, the Fightin' Texas Aggies, are a different kind of fan too. Really a different kind of person. Tradition is about more than dunking your ring upon graduation or saying 'Howdy,' it's part of the fabric of A&M fans' everyday lives.
Growing up in Dallas, I went to plenty of A&M, Texas and Oklahoma games. As much as the fans of the other two teams liked their schools, they never loved their team like the Aggies. Through thick and thin they were still the Fighting Farmers.
The demographics and culture in College Station have shifted over the past few years. Fewer kids from the country and more from the cities. Less of a focus on the agricultural and mechanical and more of a focus on the business school. But no matter what, they all believe in the school the same.
Now Texas A&M fans are unsure of the future and they're upset. They're mad at Texas. They're mad at commissioner Dan Beebe. They're mad at the Big 12. Frankly, they're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
The uneasy truce that was drawn up last summer after Larry Scott came looking to build his superconference is in shambles. The Longhorn Network is the straw that broke the camel's back but really it was the lack of stability in the Big 12 that is the driving force. Even if the NCAA denied the network of their ability to televise high school games, that wouldn't calm the uneasiness A&M has about Texas being in bed with ESPN and in a prime position to join the ranks of the independent.
The hard reality though, is that the University of Texas is the university of Texas. Texas A&M's entire athletic department budget in 2010 was $66.8 million. Texas' PROFIT from football alone was $68 million last year. The Aggies lost money in 2008 and 2009. The rumors of going to the SEC is not about high school games or money, it's about the gap between the two schools widening even further.
In the state of Texas - and in the eyes of most nationally - the Aggies are, and almost always have been, second class citizens in the state they love so dear. The move to the best conference in college football is their trump card. Their chance to shine and - at least in their minds - become peers and not Texas' little brother.
They better learn that they'll have to take their lumps with a move though. Prior to last season, the Aggies best record in the previous 11 years was 9-4. They were embarrassed by Oklahoma to the tune of 77-0 in 2003. Texas A&M has only won one bowl game since joining the Big 12 and has only one league title to their name.
Now they want tougher competition. By moving East they'll face conference opponents that have won 81 percent of their non-conference games of their games the past five years and, oh yeah, five straight national titles.
One fan tweeted me on Wednesday, "If you do understand than you would know this move is not for athletic success. Its bout the cash and the EQUALITY of the SEC."
First of all, if A&M goes to the SEC, they'll have to pay an exit fee of a good chunk of their television revenue in 2011 AND be phased into a full revenue share in their future league. Remember, this is an athletic department that was struggling to pay the bills (the school's endowment has plenty in the bank however). Second, you would not be equals in the mighty Southeastern Conference. You are the new kid on the block and you're closer to Ole Miss and Arkansas than Alabama and Florida. All conferences are not created equal.
Many will point to the fact that the program can get better recruits by selling the fact that they'll be able to play in the best conference. That will win over some.
"The conference really put them over the top," Van (Texas) linebacker Dalton Santos told Volquest.com as to why he picked Tennessee over Texas A&M. "Being able to do things in the SEC will show I can play anywhere."
What some fail to keep in mind however, is that the Longhorns will almost always have the pick of the litter in-state. Sure you can win over one or two elite players. Talent development is always been a strength in College Station and better players certainly never hurt but it's not going to shift the balance of power in the recruiting game as much as many think (or hope).
There is also the notion that grabbing Texas A&M is appealing to the SEC because it opens Texas to the league. That is obscuring the obvious: it's already open. Remember Alabama won a national championship with a quarterback from the Dallas area. When they failed to land the top in-state signal-caller Jameis Winston, they picked up a commitment from a Dallas area quarterback less than 48 hours later. If a head coach of an SEC school wants a player in Texas, they typically don't have many doors closed on them, if any.
It remains to be seen how it all will work but at the moment but it's clear there is mutual interest in making the move, should there be a shift in the college landscape. Beebe said he was taking the threat of the school leaving very seriously and Texas governor Rick Perry, an Aggie alum, confirmed to the Dallas Morning News that 'conversations are being had' on making the move.
“I’ll put it this way, I’m taking it very seriously," Beebe told The Austin-American Statesman. "I’ve been talking to a number of people. Obviously, there are a significant number of Aggie supporters who are interested in going in that (SEC) direction."
Sources told the Statesman and the Morning News that the Big 12 would continue to operate as a nine-team league if Texas A&M left. The school's offer to join the SEC has not been formally made however. As Mike Slive said at SEC Media Days a few weeks ago, he could expand the league to 16 teams "in 15 minutes." but it remains to be seen if he's willing to move on expansion at the moment. The league will add a member only if and when Slive and the SEC presidents want, the timetable is not up to the Aggies.
A source at Texas A&M said the school won't tap the breaks on the rumors until all options have been explored. The school is still mulling creating or partnering on their own network and it just so happens that the head of Fox Sports Southwest is an Aggie alum and booster. Yet many in the administration feel the stability the SEC offers is the biggest reason why the school is ultimately "forced" east.
Let's face it, it looks more likely to happen than not at this point. Culture-wise, they probably fit in well when you consider their other programs, such as baseball, and passionate fan base for all things Aggie.
When I called my father last night, an A&M alum himself, he was mostly upset over the Longhorn Network's unfair advantage. My mother, having lived through the Southwest Conference until the end, thought the whole move was a crazy reaction however.
"They're cutting off their nose to spite their face," she said.
Just like any motherly advice, she was right.
A&M thinks they've got a trump card for their rival. They better be careful what they're wishing for or the Aggies might be the ones being trumped.