Texas A&M athletic director was asked on the radio this week about the school's decision to remain in the Big 12 instead of moving to the SEC -- a move heavily favored by fans.
From the San Antonio Express-News:
"I was concerned with changing conferences that we may not be ready for the level of competition if we decided to leave," Byrne told host Dave South on the weekly show that's part of the Aggie Radio Network. "I was very concerned about trying to take things slowly, and not rush."
He continued, to the dismay of plenty of Aggies:
"If we looked at where we stacked up financially in the Pac 10 conference, we were about third," Byrne said of annual athletic budgets. "If we looked at where we stacked up in the Southeastern Conference, we were eighth out of 12. We didn't rank very well.
"My big concern was that when Texas A&M made the move from the Southwest Conference to the Big 12 conference (in '96), they were not ready for the level of competition that was out there."
Byrne continued to South, "(A&M) had not made the investment in facilities, staff or salaries -- all the things you need to build a great program. And you saw the results of that. We had a good football team in 1998, then we had problems.
"We had terrible basketball (teams). ... We had significant issues in track and field. We had problems with most of our sports because we were not ready for the level of competition."
Okay, I get it, Aggies fans. Byrne didn't exactly go all Braveheart/Russell Crowe/Rambo here. But he's not paid to be Rambo. He's paid to run the athletic department the best he knows how, and staying in the Big 12 was the best move for the Aggies.
Let me simplify, speaking strictly in terms of football:
SWC < Big 12 < SEC
Using previous worries about the Aggies' move to the Big 12 as a reason not to leave for the SEC probably wasn't the best idea, and exposes some holes in his logic. But there's no point in getting angry about that. We're not talking about leaving the Southwest Conference for the Big 12. We're talking about leaving the Big 12 for the SEC.
And as much as the Aggies would like to see the program "SECede," excuse me while I "SECsigh." That would have been a terrible idea. Facts are facts. Texas A&M has been unable to unseat Texas and Oklahoma as Big 12 South champions since 1998, a 12-year run that featured exactly one nine-win season.
There are at least two Texases and Oklahomas in the SEC West, where the Aggies might have ended up, and just as many in the SEC East. Texas A&M can argue about the latent advantages of leaving for the SEC all they want. I'll leave that to them.
But winning is king. And with Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Arkansas hanging out in its division, Texas A&M would have done less of it. Recent history tells us that; Texas A&M hasn't beaten an SEC team since 1995. I've mentioned this before, and eventually, those losses are going to remove any recruiting advantage, and good luck retaining that increased fan interest if a third-place finish in the division is the best they can do.
Schools don't switch conferences to get fans excited for five years. They don't switch conferences to grab a few extra recruits in Texas that Oklahoma and Texas wouldn't be able to get because they wanted to play in the SEC.
Schools choose conferences because it's what best for the program. Nebraska did it this summer. So did Texas A&M. Both made the right call.