Big 12 legitimacy reliant on Aggies' choice

Well, well, well.

Here we are again. A little more than a year after losing one of the Big 12's best programs and its fanbase, the stakes for the conference look much the same.

Texas governor Rick Perry, a Texas A&M alum, says he understands that Texas A&M and the SEC are talking. Perry's the first public figure to acknowledge what had been rumored for weeks, if not longer.

The Big 12's future, as A&M president R. Bowen Loftin stated last month, is uncertain.

But make no mistake, the Big 12 needs Texas A&M for the same reason the SEC wants it.

Good football, great fans (and a lot of them), and lots of intrigue. The Aggies are a cultural fit in both leagues, but A&M brings plenty of possible dollars to the SEC, as well as a possible foothold for SEC teams recruiting in Texas.

The 10-team Big 12 is viable on the field. With a national championship contender entering the 2011 season tailed by four more Top 25 teams, the league will still be strong. It can make a reasonable case for college football's second best league, even after losing Big 12 North champion Nebraska and Colorado.

But without A&M? I won't hedge a guess at what Texas, Oklahoma or others would do without the Aggies, but two options remain, should Texas A&M's "conversations" progress to membership in the SEC.

The first is what's left of the Big 12 remains together -- but should it? It would be a league stripped of two of its top four programs and its two best fan bases in less than 18 months. Big 12 sources told the Dallas Morning News that the league would eliminate a ninth conference game and move on as a nine-team league if Texas A&M left for the SEC.

An arrangement like that won't exactly command respect on a national scale, even as the remaining nine teams cash bigger checks left behind by A&M's share of a gargantuan television deal and exit fees.

The Big 12 bylaws, by the way, have not changed since Nebraska and Colorado's exit. The withdrawal fees would still be the same.

The conference withholds 50 percent of the conference revenue if a team gives at least two years notice before it ends its conference membership. The shorter the notice is, the greater the amount of revenue that is withheld. If less than a year's notice is given, but more than six months, teams have 90 percent withheld. If less than six months' notice is given, a program has 100 percent of its revenue withheld.

The second option? Schools like Texas, Oklahoma (perhaps OSU as well, depending on how the state legislature feels) will almost surely find comfy landing places elsewhere. Others like Missouri or Texas Tech may be fortunate to do the same. The rest may hold the Big 12 together with new members, or scatter to leagues like the Big East, a scenario all too familiar for programs that faced a similar future last summer.

"Oh, you know, just another easy summer," Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe told ESPN.com in a recent interview. "I need a summer where I can be bored for once."

Murmurs have grown louder in recent weeks, and Beebe is forced to face a scenario similar to the one he dealt with last summer. Beebe worked behind the scenes to secure money (and, by default, stability) for those that remained in the Big 12, and now, he'd better be on his way to College Station (or already there) to try and exercise his powers of persuasion over an administration facing the crush of a fan base dying to head east.

Beebe told the Austin American-Statesman on Wednesday night that the Big 12 is taking the threat of an Aggies move east "very seriously."

"I’ve been talking to a number of people. Obviously, there are a significant number of Aggie supporters who are interested in going in that (SEC) direction," Beebe said.

He added that a move away from geographic proximity and rivalries can "create a lot of problems," adding that he felt the Big 12's athletic directors were comfortable with the new Big 12 following a meeting in Dallas last Monday.

Now, though, he'll have to use whatever means, and whatever it takes, just as he did last year. The Big 12 is at stake.

If he can't?

Well, the Big 12 just won't be quite as much fun anymore, if it exists at all.

The Aggies are loud. The Huskers were louder. The Big 12 survived -- both in existence and on-field perception -- the loss of one. It can't sustain a second and still be one of the nation's best and most vibrant conferences.