Texas A&M sounds unwilling to blindly follow rival Texas to the West coast and join their Big 12 South brethren. Enough so, that SEC commissioner Mike Slive reportedly paid College Station a visit over the weekend to talk future membership.
Athletic director Bill Byrne responded via e-mail on Saturday:
“Please let us continue to go through a thorough and thoughtful process,” Byrne wrote. “Like you, we understand that this decision will impact us for decades. Let’s not rush.
“Having said that, it is still our choice to keep the remaining ten Big 12 schools together if we can. If we cannot do that, then we will do our best to do the right thing.”
So what is the right thing? Texas holds the key to a still-viable Big 12, but splitting from Texas to join the SEC instead of following to the Big 12 or Pac-10 is the high-risk, high-reward option.
Financially, it's not risky. Everything the Pac-10 or Big 12 tells the Aggies is going to be a projection. The Pac-10 dished out up to $10 million to its teams in its most recently available number. (Yes, it issues conference revenue unequally, too. Differently, and split up between sports, but still unequal.) But commissioner Larry Scott claims that number could climb to above $20 million if a Pac-16 is formed.
It's tough to project what a weakened Big 12 would fetch, but commissioner Dan Beebe is reportedly trying to keep teams in the league by pitching a number larger than the $139 million divvied up between the 12 teams this season.
Meanwhile, the SEC just issued $17.3 million checks to each of its schools and, presumably, believes that number would grow with the addition of the Aggies.
So, no doubts there.
They'd also be able to sell "You can play in THE SEC!" to recruits, giving them an edge (at least in some recruits' minds) over Big 12 powers Texas and Oklahoma. It might also give teams like Alabama and Florida an in to Texan recruits, but one game every other year at most back in their home state isn't going to send recruits suddenly sprinting to Tuscaloosa or Gainesville.
They'd also be able to sell their own brand, rather than the less successful version of Texas.
But the fans' enthusiasm might be slowed by the primary product we're talking about here: Football. As in, on the field.
Texas A&M was a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team in 2009. Georgia and Arkansas were in the meat of the SEC, rather than the elite.
The Aggies lost both games by 20-plus points. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 1995 to find the last time the Aggies beat an SEC team, when, as the No. 3 team in the country, they beat LSU.
Since then, they've lost convincingly to Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl and lost in overtime to Mississippi State in the 2000 Independence Bowl. That's not to say those losses would have a ton of effect moving forward, but let's keep it simple here.
The SEC is good.
Better than the rest of the leagues across the nation, top to bottom, as those leagues currently stand. A couple of 4-8 seasons (and keeping Texas on the schedule, something the Aggies should do regardless, wouldn't help avoid those) would have everyone second-guessing the move. Maybe Texas A&M could improve and compete for championships.
The last decade tells me they won't. Their best chance to win, which is a currency all its own in this realignment game, is in the Pac-10, which should be ruled by the familial Texas and Oklahoma with USC limping, thanks to the NCAA.
If the Aggies want to break out from their burnt orange shadow, the SEC is the place to do it. But they might find all kinds of other big brothers there, too.
It doesn't take much faith to believe the Aggies might be better off financially in the SEC. It takes a lot to believe they would be on the field. If the Aggies decision-makers have that faith, they'll do what they need to do. Time may equal success. But that success would have a lot fewer variables in the Pac-10.