Texas A&M’s departure from the Big 12 Conference drew closer to reality on Monday when the university’s president, R. Bowen Loftin, sent a letter to the Big 12 board chairman, the Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton, notifying the league that the Aggies would formally withdraw — very likely on Tuesday — according to two college officials with direct knowledge of the decision.
This latest step in the Aggies’ effort to join the Southeastern Conference appears to have two stumbling blocks. The first is Texas A&M’s exit fee from the Big 12, which it has not negotiated. That amount is expected to be close to $15 million. The other is the approval of the S.E.C. presidents. Nine of the 12 would have to vote in favor for Texas A&M to become a member of the conference. It is unlikely that Texas A&M would be this far along in the process without adequate S.E.C. presidential support.
Texas A&M hopes to play in the S.E.C. during the 2012 football season, which would appear to leave the conference with a mathematically clunky 13 teams for one year.
With this move, Texas A&M’s membership in the SEC is far from secured, and a smooth transition into the SEC is not guaranteed. There has been no public statement from the SEC on conference expansion since mid-August, when the conference “reaffirmed [its] satisfaction with the present 12 institutional alignment.”
Rather than negotiate the particulars– including its Big XII exit fees and whether the SEC would operate with an odd-numbered membership (currently it has east and west divisions of six schools each)– behind closed doors, A&M has stepped out into the open, formally making its intentions known to all.
The move does not place any more pressure on the SEC to act, however. A&M is a school that needs a conference– it can’t and won’t operate as an independent– but the SEC is not in danger of losing it to another conference; this pairing is the only logical option, and the SEC should want a foothold in Texas if it is to expand at all.
Even though this decision doesn’t raise the stakes for anyone but A&M, it may make easier a deal that brings it to the SEC. If the conference was nervous about making the invitation before it was sure A&M would accept it, this formal notification of departure from the Big XII would appear to erase any first-mover qualms the SEC might harbor. The ball may be back in the SEC’s court, but Texas A&M has served up a slow floater, and the SEC can and likely will sit and watch this one for a bit before taking action.