Source: Texas A&M intent on bolting

Updated: August 14, 2011, 3:46 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Texas A&M seems poised to move from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference, in which it hopes to begin play in 2012, school officials have said.

After 15 years in the Big 12, Texas A&M has been considering the switch for the second time in a year.

A high-ranking source within Texas A&M confirmed to ESPN's Doug Gottlieb on Saturday morning the Aggies are ready to join the SEC. The San Antonio Express-News reported the time frame of their tentative plans to begin competition.

Additionally, a source told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that A&M athletic director Bill Byrne left the men's basketball team's foreign trip Sunday morning out of Paris to head back to College Station to deal with the likelihood that A&M will head to the SEC. According to the source, as long as the SEC approves the move all indications are that the Aggies will vote to go.

Several possible roadblocks remain, however.

All but one of the SEC's school presidents will meet Sunday to discuss A&M's admission to the league, The New York Times has reported, citing a high-ranking conference official with first-hand knowledge of the talks.

The SEC official said there was still a 30 percent to 40 percent chance the Aggies would not get enough votes for an invitation to the league, The Times reported. And the issue of needing to add a 14th team along with A&M remained, the newspaper reported.

"We realize if we do this, we have to have the 14th," the SEC official said. "No name has been thrown out. This thing is much slower out of the chute than the media and blogs have made it."

The official told The Times that Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin called SEC commissioner Mike Slive three weeks ago and said the Aggies regretted not leaving the Big 12 for the SEC last summer.

Two weeks ago, Slive and SEC lawyers met with A&M officials, when the league requested that the school work out the possible legal ramifications surrounding its contract with the Big 12, the report said.

"They have a contract now," the SEC official said, according to The Times. "We're very sensitive about being part of breaking a contract. What we asked them to do was to go settle their issues and not have us be on the table as the agent of causing them to leave."

The Board of Directors for the Big 12 held a conference call Saturday to discuss Texas A&M's plans.

"The Board strongly conveyed to Texas A&M its unanimous desire that it remain a Big 12 member, and acknowledged its value to the Conference," the Big 12 said in a statement. "The Board noted that Texas A&M expressed concerns about institutional networks and that the athletics directors worked together and took actions, which the Board has approved, to adequately address those concerns."

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.

The Big 12 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.

The other nine members of the Big 12, the statement said, remain committed to keeping the conference intact and, if Texas A&M chooses to leave, "the Board is prepared to aggressively move forward to explore expansion opportunities."

The SEC is interested in A&M because the move "brings us into the Texas market," another person familiar with the situation told the AP on Saturday. But the person added that "it's not about us wanting or needing 14 teams, Texas A&M came to us."

LSU coach Les Miles said he would welcome annual games against the Aggies if the move happens.

"I certainly understand the want to be in this league," Miles said, according to USA Today. "If they get on the schedule we'll look forward to that competition."

Texas A&M and LSU first played each other in 1899 and met every season from 1960-75 and 1986-95. The Aggies lead the series 27-20-3, with the Tigers winning their last meeting, 41-24, in the AT&T Cotton Bowl on Jan. 7.

The SEC now likely will pursue Florida State, Clemson and Missouri, a source told ESPN's Gottlieb, though Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said the school was not in talks with any conferences about a possible move.

"No, no, no," Alden told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Saturday, before reaffirming the school's commitment to the Big 12, in whatever form that might be.

Florida State and Clemson also have said they haven't had any talks about the schools leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference for the SEC.

"From coach to (athletic director) to president and the board chair (trustees), there has been no discussion," Florida State president Eric Barron told The Associated Press in a phone interview Saturday. "I feel quite certain if any of those individuals had any discussions, including me, we would have shared it with each other."

Barron, however, sounded more amused than irritated by all of the reports.

"There's certainly a lot of scurrying about, for sure," he said.

Clemson president James Barker Saturday also denied reports that the Tigers are considering a move.

"We are committed to the ACC," Barker said in a statement. "We have had no contact with the SEC."

West Virginia has also been mentioned, but a source told the Associated Press Louisville would make more sense.

"The question is what's the dynamic with Kentucky? Will Kentucky have a problem with it?" the person said. "I doubt Kentucky would have the beef that Georgia does with Georgia Tech or South Carolina does with Clemson."

The Texas A&M board of regents will convene for a special meeting Monday that includes an agenda item about conference alignment.

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."

The Texas legislature also has called a meeting. On Tuesday, the Texas House Committee on Higher Education is set to discuss realignment, a meeting to which Big 12, SEC and Texas A&M officials have been invited.

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

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.

Branch doesn't believe Texas A&M will leave the Big 12 before a hearing in front of his committee Tuesday.

He said it would be "inappropriate" for Texas A&M to switch conferences before the hearing.

"I'm told by A&M officials that it is not an attempt to pre-empt legislators questions and that this will take perhaps a week to two weeks to work out anyway, if a bid is extended," Branch said.

He added that his understanding that the item on the agenda is simply to "authorize the president to enter into negotiations with the SEC if a bid is extended."

Branch wants to talk with officials to find out how such a move would impact the state and other Texas schools in the Big 12.

"If a bid has been extended by the SEC at that point, then what I hope to hear from them is the merits of that proposal, why that's a positive deal for the state of Texas and for Texas A&M University and our student-athletes and what are the economics of that," he said. "I also hope to hear the consequences and the effects of such a move on our other Tier I institution, the University of Texas at Austin, and emerging Tier I school Texas Tech University and even Baylor University and the overall effect on the Big 12 Conference."

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.

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-12. 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.

If Texas A&M departs, it could come at a cost to the school, as it did for Nebraska and Colorado.

The conference initially sought $19.4 million from Nebraska and between $15 million and $20 million from Colorado in forfeited revenues. In settlements, Colorado agreed to pay $6.83 million and Nebraska $9.25 million.

The Big 12 paid out between $8.7 million and $15.4 million per school in revenues in 2008-09, according to IRS tax records examined by The Associated Press.

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

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