Source: A&M prez, Big 12 talked split

Updated: August 31, 2011, 10:59 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin had a phone conversation with Missouri chancellor and Big 12 Conference board chairman Brady Deaton on Monday night about his university's desire to withdraw from the conference, a Big 12 source confirmed to ESPN's Joe Schad on Tuesday.

Texas A&M could send its formal, written letter of departure as early as this week, the source said. The only holdups are threats of litigation by Big 12 members and the need to clarify exit fees.

The New York Times said in a story posted on its website Monday night that Loftin sent a letter to Deaton to inform the league it was leaving. Texas A&M denied that report, saying Tuesday it has not sent a letter of withdrawal to the Big 12.

When Colorado and Nebraska left the conference last year, they paid about half of what the Big 12 could have contended they owed upon leaving the conference, and Texas A&M would like similar treatment, the source told Schad.

Texas A&M said Monday it had received a letter from Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe outlining the withdrawal procedure should the Aggies decide to leave the league.

Texas A&M spokesman Jason Cook said on Monday that the letter "outlines the withdrawal procedures according to the financial provisions of the Big 12 bylaws and mutual waivers of legal claims." He wouldn't provide any other details of the letter or comment on what A&M's next step might be.

The Aggies are interested in joining the Southeastern Conference. Loftin sent a letter to the Big 12 last week formally telling Beebe they are exploring their options and asked for the conference to outline the process if they decide to leave.

The mutual waiver of legal claims could mean the amount the Aggies would pay could be determined by mediation instead of lawsuits.

Texas A&M would prefer to leave the Big 12 and have an announcement about joining the SEC before this season starts to aid with scheduling concerns and to allow the Big 12 to begin the process of adding a replacement, the source told Schad. But it is possible that process could last until the second week of Texas A&M's season, which is a bye week.

The Big 12 board announced Tuesday the conference has formed a committee to discuss schools that could replace Texas A&M if the Aggies leave the league. Deaton said that the committee could also address the possibility of expanding the conference even if Texas A&M stays put.

Deaton said the committee is looking at expansion in the "broadest context" and will make a recommendation to the board concerning whether expanding the conference "by one or more members" is beneficial.

Adding one school, at least to start with, is the most likely scenario. The Big 12 has interest in Notre Dame, Arkansas, BYU or TCU, a source within the conference confirmed to Schad, though Notre Dame and Arkansas are considered unlikely.

BYU declared its football independence this year and TCU has committed to the Big East, but the Big 12 would attempt to react as quickly as possible to the expected departure of Texas A&M.

So far, the only school to publicly express interest in moving to the Big 12 is SMU. Athletic director Steve Orsini said he's had informal talks with Big 12 officials for some time to inform them of the school's improvements and growth.

"I think we add stability to an (automatic qualifier) BCS conference, especially in our region," Orsini told The Associated Press. "So our goal is to return to the AQ, BCS status that we used to have. They didn't call it that back in the old Southwest Conference, but our goal is to resurrect ourselves to get back there."

The Big 12, including Texas A&M, agreed to a 13-year television deal with Fox Sports in April worth more than $1 billion. There is a chance the contract could be voided if the Aggies leave the conference, which could lead to legal issues for Texas A&M and its new league.

"The Big 12 remains a strong conference with a very effective media contract in place," Deaton said in a statement Tuesday.

The league's board of directors addressed the possible departure of the Aggies last weekend.

"I certainly appreciate the discussion among the Big 12 presidents/chancellors and the expression of their desire for Texas A&M to remain in the conference," Loftin said in a statement Monday afternoon before The New York Times report. "We all agree that Texas A&M is an extremely valuable institution; thus, it is incumbent upon me, as the president of the university, to ensure that we are in a position to enhance our national visibility and future financial opportunity."

Loftin added this is a "complex and long-term decision," but "it is not our intent to prolong our conference exploration for an extended period of time."

The SEC said earlier this month it was happy with its current 12-school membership but left the door open to expansion. Loftin then received authority from the board of regents to take any action he deems necessary in terms of realignment.

Information from ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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