Texas A&M board to discuss alignment

Updated: August 15, 2011, 1:19 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

HOUSTON -- The Texas A&M board of regents has called a special meeting Monday that includes an agenda item about conference alignment. The session comes amid speculation that Texas A&M is leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference.

The item, part of the executive session agenda, is called: "Authorization for the President to Take All Actions Relating to Texas A&M University's Athletic Conference Alignment, The Texas A&M University System."

Texas A&M considered switching to the SEC last year before staying in the Big 12. The university hasn't confirmed it is again discussing a jump to the SEC, but talk has been intensifying that the Aggies are looking to leave.

The news of the meeting comes on the heels of the Texas House Committee on Higher Education calling a Tuesday hearing, to which Big 12, SEC and Texas A&M officials have been invited, to discuss possible realignment of college conferences in the state.

Texas Rep. Dan Branch said the Tuesday meeting has been scheduled in part "because we are hearing Texas A&M and the SEC are talking more seriously and we are hearing about a possible vote (for invitation) by SEC presidents."

Branch said he's heard the SEC vote could be as early as Saturday and members of the committee want to ensure their questions about what is in the best interest of the state of Texas and its students are addressed.

"There are millions of dollars at stake," Branch said. "And this could affect students at other schools like Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor."

Branch referred to the potential impact of A&M's departure on television contracts.

Florida State is another school that has been mentioned as a potential new addition to the SEC. But university President Eric Barron said he hasn't had any talks about his school leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference for the SEC. Still, he didn't say it would never happen.

Barron said Friday that while he finds speculation fascinating, he has not had any talks about Florida State moving from the Atlantic Coast Conference. He said that the ACC "is a good conference."

"I don't think there is anything to talk about right now," Barron said. "I don't speculate when there's no conversation."

ACC commissioner John Swofford said Friday he's heard nothing from any of the conference schools being contacted by other leagues.

"We'll continue to be mindful of the collegiate landscape and what's best for the ACC and its member institutions," Swofford said in a statement from his office. "With that said, I've received no indication from any of our 12 presidents that they have any intention of being affiliated with any conference other than the ACC."

Florida State athletic director Randy Spetman was out of town and unavailable to comment on the reports. SEC spokesman Charles Bloom declined to comment on expansion rumors swirling around Texas A&M and Florida State.

"There's no offer on the table," Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said after practice on Friday. "I have not spoken to anybody about it. We love the ACC. We love the conference we're in."

The Big 12 believes it could withstand the loss of A&M with Texas and Oklahoma remaining as anchor schools. If A&M were to leave, the Big 12 could consider Houston as a replacement to the TV market.

The Big 12 is stressing it has five members with AAU Academic Accreditation compared to two in the SEC, a note Branch said could be part of a "holistic view."

The Big 12 also says A&M's issues with the Longhorn Network are being addressed. And it is focused on the significance of maintaining regional rivalries and geographic relevance.

But it was political pressure and legislature that played a key role in the Big 12 staying together last summer, when parts nearly broke off to join the Pac-12.

Florida State's Barron said he would not speculate if FSU could move when there has been no discussion about it.

Florida State has largely dominated the ACC in football since joining the conference two decades ago, winning a dozen league titles and two national championships.

Aggies Internet message boards and blogs are lighting up with chatter about such a move and several posts on Friday said that students chanted: "SEC! SEC!" as university president R. Bowen Loftin walked to the podium at Texas A&M commencement ceremonies.

Such a move could jeopardize the future of the Big 12 and has state legislators concerned. The Higher Education committee said commissioners Dan Beebe of the Big 12 and Mike Slive of the SEC have been invited to testify, as have Loftin and A&M system board of regents chairman Richard A. Box.

There was speculation that administrators from other schools in the Big 12, who would be affected by such a move, would be invited to the hearing as well, but they were not included on the list.

"They have not called me and I'm not volunteering," Texas Tech president Guy Bailey said.

Beebe declined an interview request by The Associated Press to discuss a possible move by Texas A&M Friday.

Asked about multiple reports that he told Texas A&M officials that Texas was the key to the future of the Big 12 and that the Big 12 would survive without the Aggies, Beebe said in a text message to ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's Ian Fitzsimmons those reports are "totally inaccurate."

Texas A&M won't confirm that it is in discussions with the SEC, but Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Texas A&M graduate, told The Dallas Morning News this week that as far as he knows "conversations are being had" on the subject.

A&M athletic director Bill Byrne, who is out of the country traveling with the men's basketball team, declined comment on the subject through a spokesman. The only official word from A&M came in a statement released by Loftin on Wednesday.

"President Loftin is committed to doing what is best for Texas A&M not only now, but also into the future," the statement read. "We continue to have wide-ranging conversations regarding all aspects of the university, including both academics and athletics."

An SEC spokesman declined comment on the situation, but did say that Slive would not be meeting with Perry on Friday while the governor was in Birmingham, Ala. for a fundraiser.

The Big 12 looked to be in trouble last summer when Nebraska and Colorado left the conference and several other schools were courted by the Pac-10. Texas decided to stay in the Big 12 which made it much easier for Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State to remain in the league as well.

At that time Loftin issued a letter addressed to "The Aggie Family" on A&M's decision to remain in the Big 12.

In the letter he said by remaining a member of the Big 12: "We were able to more than double our financial return to the levels being offered by other conferences."

He added that: "I understand that some Aggies are disappointed, but I am confident this decision will serve Texas A&M well in the years to come. As athletic director Bill Byrne and I stated numerous times throughout this process, our hope and desire was for the Big 12 to continue. And we both agree that this is an exciting, new day for our league."

One possible reason for Texas A&M's renewed interest in leaving the Big 12 could be because the school isn't happy about The Longhorn Network -- created through a 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN.

Loftin added in the letter to A&M fans last summer that another consideration in staying in the conference was maintaining Texas A&M's "strong foothold" in the state and preserving rivalries that date back "more than 100 years."

Texas A&M has a large and rabid fan base and many Aggies were upset when the school decided to remain in the Big 12 and are miffed that their archrival Texas now has its own network while they do not.

Texas hopes that Texas A&M remains in the Big 12.

"At this point we do not know if Texas A&M is leaving the Big 12," Texas athletic director DeLoss 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."

Baylor also weighed in on the subject, with athletic director Ian McCaw issuing a statement that said Baylor is "fully committed to the Big 12 Conference."

"We are working closely with our colleagues in the conference," McCaw said in the statement. "We look forward to continued and open dialog concerning ways we might work together to preserve our collective interests and ensure a bright and successful future for the Big 12."

Information from ESPN's Joe Schad and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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