College Station overtaken with SEC mania

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Demand has outrun supply.


The aptly named Zach Salesman walks into Aggieland Outfitters, just off campus in the shadow of Kyle Field, proudly wearing a maroon shirt bearing the unofficial slogan of the Texas A&M fan base: "SECede."

Because of high demand, it's the only one of its kind you'll find in the store for now.

Fans could choose a shirt with a de-horned Texas logo bearing the text from Psalm 75:10 and aimed at their rival: "I will cut off the horns of the wicked."

They could choose a classic No. 12 jersey, a nod to the fans' well-earned nickname of The 12th Man. A&M fans can even buy a Harry Potter shirt with one of the school's catchphrases, BTHO (beat the hell outta), applied to the Potter saga's villain: Voldemort.

They're choosing to SECede.

Salesman works in the store's corporate office, and twice, Texas A&M fans hungry for a move to college football's top conference have snapped up all his supply. A third order from the printer was expected to come in sometime Tuesday.

"We sold so many that we can’t actually keep up with the numbers," Salesman said. "We’re printing them as fast as we can. Basically we have people going to the printers nonstop to pick up shirts."

Such is life in Aggieland, where the Big 12 has gone out of style for bigger and (hopefully) better things.

"There’s a big approval rating, and fans, alumni and students want to go," said James Solano, a sportswriter at the campus newspaper, The Battalion. "We were tempted last summer with the idea. And people like myself were like, 'No! We’re not going to win.' But we’ve had awhile to play around with it, and there’s all these Facebook pages keeping us updated with articles all year 'round.

"Come to find out in late July and August that it’s possible we may go to the SEC, and now we’re as close as we’ve ever been."

And fans, who overwhelmingly support a move to the SEC, are keeping a close eye on the decision process.

"It hasn’t really exploded until this last week, but I’ve got the ESPN app, so anytime anything new comes up, I’m reading," said Lucas Turner, a senior communications major and a member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets. "I’m probably looking up what’s going on at least an hour every day."

Turner, a first-generation Aggie, came to Texas A&M for one of the school's richest traditions, the corps. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who first acknowledged last week that conversations were happening between the SEC and Texas A&M, was one of the school's yell leaders and served in the corps.

On Monday, Turner made his way across campus through triple-digit temperatures in the customary corps regalia: khaki pants tucked into his knee-high brown boots, outfitted with spurs on the back that jingle as he treks across the concrete. Above them? A khaki shirt with his corps regalia, and a khaki hat covering his Marine-like high and tight haircut.

On his mind? His favorite team's future, of course.

"It’s really hard to watch a bigger school kind of bully their way around the conference and make the money they want to," Turner said. "So you have to do something, but I think a lot of fans are kind of uneasy about, 'Is this what we really want?'"

Chief among those concerns is breaking a game with in-state rival Texas, which has shared a conference with Texas A&M since 1914.

Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said Monday that he has every intention of keeping that Thanksgiving Day tradition alive. In short, its end won't come at the hand of the Aggies.

"We want to carve our own niche, and we don’t want to be the little brother, but you almost don’t want to leave big brother," Turner said.

Turner is a member of the Aggies' band, which travels to nearly every away game, sans North foes such as Kansas State and Iowa State.

"My dad and I were thinking the farthest we’ll go is Mississippi. Ole Miss, Mississippi State," Turner said. "Which leaves us with basically four teams we can travel to for road games."

It's doubtful the Aggies band's travel concerns will factor much into the decision, but it could be part of the new world Texas A&M fans find themselves in.

"We’re just trying not to get lost in the shuffle and be able to play our own hand," Turner said of his school. "We understand that the move is not just about football, but football is the driving power."

The tradition with Texas is one of Isaac Chavez's favorite parts of his university, too. Chavez, a 21-year-old sports management major from Decatur, Texas, stayed in College Station over Thanksgiving two years ago to see his Aggies try to derail the Longhorns' undefeated season and national title hopes.

Rivalry games have always been Chavez's favorite part of being an Aggie.

"Whether it be beating Baylor or Tech, and of course Thanksgiving," he said. "You just can’t miss the A&M-Texas game."

He was nearly on the other side of the rivalry, but a trip to Austin resulted in his wardrobe now consisting of, by his estimates, 80 percent Aggies-affiliated clothing.

"It just seemed too urban," Chavez said of the Texas campus. "Not cold in weather, but cold in general, its personality."

He came to A&M without visiting the campus and fell in love. Now, he works at Loupot's Bookstore near the A&M campus as a textbook specialist.

The decision to come to A&M was much easier for Solano, who ended up at the school paper.

"I grew up baptized in the maroon Kool-Aid and I wasn’t going to go anywhere else," said Solano, a San Antonio native and the son of an alum from the class of 1980. "I only applied to one school."

The 24-year-old Ag-Com journalism major remembers the day Ricky Williams broke the NCAA career rushing record against Texas A&M and officials stopped the game to recognize the accomplishment.

"As an Aggie, you were like, 'Are you kidding?'" Solano said.

He's spent plenty of time considering his university's move to the SEC.

"My roommates and I, if we’re not at work, we’re in the living room with ESPN on and our laptops out and trying to dig as deep into it as possible," he said.

When the possibility of a move to the SEC first surfaced last summer, he was opposed. This time around, he's changed his tune, despite facing the realities of Texas A&M's 53-72-4 all-time record against its possible new division roommates in the SEC West, including a 41-24 loss to LSU in last season's Cotton Bowl.

"It's tough to weigh the pros and cons, but in the long run, I think it’d be a better fit for the program," he said.

Will Texas A&M get a chance to see whether it measures up? It might find out soon.