SEC plans to stick to 12 schools for now

Updated: August 15, 2011, 3:30 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The Southeastern Conference is staying just as it is -- for now.

However, the game of major college conference realignment appears far from finished.

University of Florida president Bernie Machen, the chairman of the league's presidents and chancellors committee, said the group met Sunday and "reaffirmed our satisfaction with the present 12 institutional alignment."

Machen said no action was taken regarding Texas A&M or any other schools. He didn't, however, close the door on change.

"We recognize, however, that future conditions may make it advantageous to expand the number of institutions in the league," Machen said. "We discussed criteria and process associated with expansion. No action was taken with respect to any institution including Texas A&M."

A high-ranking source within Texas A&M confirmed to ESPN's Doug Gottlieb on Saturday the Aggies were intent on joining the Southeastern Conference. And they reportedly hoped to begin play in the league starting as soon as 2012.

Additionally, ESPN.com's Andy Katz is reporting that 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 a source, as long as the SEC were to eventually back a move all indications are that the Aggies will vote to go.

The Texas A&M System board of regents has a meeting slated for Monday that includes an agenda item about conference alignment.

An SEC official had told The New York Times ahead of Sunday's meeting that there was still a 30 percent to 40 percent chance the Aggies would not get enough votes for an invitation. 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.

Loftin said in a statement Sunday there is "a considerable amount of misinformation" regarding the school and the SEC. Loftin said he did not participate in Sunday's meeting with the SEC, but is authorized by the regents to "take all actions related to athletic conference alignment."

Arkansas chancellor Dave Gearhart was at the meeting Sunday and said A&M was among a number of topics discussed.

"It was really an open discussion, not just about A&M but about the future of the conference and the future of other conferences," Gearhart said. "We did talk about Texas A&M. It's a great university, a great place. But I think the decision was to make no decision at this particular time."

"(Texas A&M) did approach the SEC, not the other way around," Gearhart said. "I'm not really sure of all the reasons for that. I'm sure that there's a lot of speculation on behalf of a lot of people that what caused them to do that.

"The bottom line is they did approach the SEC."

Gearhart said the SEC presidents and chancellors are "very comfortable" with the 12-team alignment, financially and competitively. But he, too, said they wouldn't rule out expansion.

"If some other conference is going to make changes, it behooves us to take a look at that," said Gearhart.

He added: "I think everybody will sort of be watching what happens in Texas and what they do."

Gearhart said he didn't come away from the meeting with any clearer idea of what form future conferences might take. He said talk of four "super conferences" was just that -- talk.

As for how any future alignment would affect the SEC, or if the conference would look actively look to add schools, Gearhart pointed to the league's history of success and his confidence in commissioner Mike Slive.

"If you look at what the member institutions have won on the gridiron and all sports, for that matter, we've done very, very well," Gearhart said.

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.

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."

Texas State Rep. Dan Branch, the chairman of the Texas House Committee on Higher Education, called a hearing before his committee for Tuesday with Big 12, SEC and Texas A&M officials.

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

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.

Texas coach Mack Brown, in an interview Sunday on ESPN Radio, said he hoped Texas A&M, the Longhorns' longtime bitter rival, would remain in the Big 12. But he also said the Big 12 and Texas' athletic programs would perservere if the Aggies defected.

"A lot of people are worried about that," Brown told ESPN Radio. "Texas will be fine. I think the Big 12 will be fine regardless of what comes out of this, and we'll move forward."

"Number one, it's been a great rivalry with Texas and Texas A&M, so I hope it stays," Brown said.

"I hope -- I'm a traditionalist -- and I hate to see situations with universities that have played for hundreds of years break up," Brown added, with a subtle nod toward hyperbole. "And we're having a lot of league discussions over the last few years."

The Aggies' football team went about business as usual Sunday with a two-hour morning practice indoors.

Coach Mike Sherman has said that he's not in the loop on developments involving the SEC. He was not available for comment after Sunday's first workout, but said Saturday he and his team are concentrating solely on the Sept. 4 opener against SMU.

Senior safety Trent Hunter says the Aggies have followed the coaches' mandate to block out the rumors and concentrate on football.

"Not been very hard at all," Hunter said. "Our coaches made a very good point of it. They nipped it in the bud on the first day -- don't talk about it, don't tweet about it, don't Facebook about it. It's not anything that's going to affect us playing SMU in that first week."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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