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A&M playing Texas is good for football

Play this forward -- Texas A&M joins the SEC for the 2012-13 athletic season.

What happens? Who wins? How much more money does A&M make? Is it enough to matter? What about unintended consequences?

These questions, and many more around our game, have manic level conspiracy theorists hard at work. But the whole of the fan base, not just the fringe chatterers, seem to think the No. 1 answer to "Why is Texas A&M trying to leave the Big 12?" is that the University of Texas, in partnership with ESPN, just launched The Longhorn Network.

Many outlets cite the unfair competitive advantage in revenue, prestige and recruiting as the broad strokes, the underlying concerns. All fair points, including ESPN being questioned about its journalistic credibility in this relationship.

(Note -- I am handling the commentator duties for the Rice at Texas football broadcast this Saturday on The Longhorn Network. I hope our coverage is given a fair and honest assessment.)

But it seems Texas A&M, and many of us around the game, are always so focused on potential "wrongdoings" that we're not working toward sound, forward-looking solutions for the system as it currently exists that protect and grow what is right about the game.

One issue that demands consideration before making a decision with the sheer weight of Texas A&M going to the SEC is the potential harm it will likely cause to Thanksgiving weekend as it's currently celebrated by many in the state of Texas.

If A&M is no longer contractually obligated by its conference to play Texas in football every season, it can choose not to play Texas every season. For potentially long stretches of time.

For the record, Texas A&M has said -- even if it leaves the Big 12 -- that it would like to continue its rivalry with Texas.

At risk is a true, valuable treasure. Essentially every year since 1894, a large, passionate audience in a large, passionate state gathers together in late November, breaks bread and shares their collective thanks for all of the good in our world. Then, that evening or the next afternoon, they vocally share their hatred for the school their sister/neighbor/best friend/business partner went to.

With some of the greatest real and imagined legends of any sports rivalry, including how a 13-0 win in 1915 by A&M led to the Texas Longhorns mascot getting the name Bevo, this rivalry is a tangible reason college football is so valuable to so many of us.

I've been lucky enough to broadcast a few A&M-Texas games. I've done games from both Austin and Kyle Field, and in all instances, there has been only one other yearly series that for me compares, and that's Army vs. Navy.

With all of this at stake, there is no way A&M and Texas don't play every year. Right?

Economically speaking, it may make sense in the future for A&M to skip Texas occasionally. An open nonconference game slot can become a well-marketed, big matchup affair that shows off the Aggies to different audiences.

Further, any head coach worth his salary, like the kind A&M currently employees, has a big, firm hand involved in his team's scheduling.

Is the coach at A&M going to want to have to slug it out with Texas every year on top of the SEC schedule that includes a regular-season-ending conference championship game?

The Aggies, who may be darn good this year, would likely have been picked to finish somewhere around third or fifth on many SEC media members' preseason rankings of the SEC West. And it seems it's always like this in these parts.

Which all stinks, because Texas playing Texas A&M every year is good for the integrity, creative beauty, bottom line and mostly healthy local and national pride that is the foundation of college football.

I, for one, hope the Big 12, Texas A&M and Texas are truly doing everything they reasonably can to remain long-term business partners. I think it's good for the sport we love if we aggressively and smartly protect its greatest assets.

Ed Cunningham is an ESPN analyst who will be on the broadcast team for Saturday's Rice-Texas game, which will air on The Longhorn Network.