Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork says the Aggies will be prepared should Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC, adding that any concern with the potential move was about preserving the collaborative nature of the league.
"Regardless of who joins the SEC, whether it's now [or] in the future, 'the 12th Man' is ready," Bjork told ESPN on Saturday. "Our teams are ready. Our coaches are ready. Our athletic department is ready to compete at the highest level. That's what the SEC is, that's what we are as a university, and we're ready for whatever comes next."
Texas and Oklahoma could make their move to the SEC official in a matter of weeks, a source confirmed to ESPN on Friday. The Austin American-Statesman first reported that timeline.
Meanwhile, multiple Big 12 sources told ESPN's Heather Dinich on Saturday they are expecting Oklahoma and Texas to formally notify the Big 12 on Monday that they don't intend to extend their existing media rights deals with the league, which expire in 2025. It's the first official step in several required to exit the league, but that notification at face value doesn't indicate any moves before that current contract expires.
Oklahoma and Texas signed a Big 12 grant-of-rights agreement, in which they granted their first- and second-tier media rights for football and men's basketball to the conference through June 30, 2025. That means the Big 12 would still own those schools' media rights for those sports, even if they are no longer members, until the agreement expires.
With a heated rivalry that dates to 1894, Texas A&M and Texas were both founding members of the Big 12 in 1996 after the Southwest Conference's demise. The Big 12's early days were marked by infighting, and the merger of the former Big 8 and four Texas schools was strained.
Colorado departed for the Pac-12 in 2010, the same year Nebraska left for the Big Ten. The Aggies and Missouri left in 2011 after Texas and ESPN announced plans for the Longhorn Network, which pays Texas $300 million over 20 years for its own television deal separate from the other conference members.
"The culture of an athletic conference is a priority for us, and 10 years ago when we joined the SEC, that was the culture that we were after: collaboration, equality and competition," said Bjork, who previously was athletic director at Ole Miss before arriving at A&M. "This is going on my 10th year in the SEC. It's what makes the SEC the best conference and we've got to protect that."
When the Houston Chronicle reported on Wednesday that the Sooners and Longhorns were in discussions with the SEC, Bjork told reporters at SEC media days that he would be "diligent in our approach to protect Texas A&M" and said the Aggies wanted to be the only SEC school in Texas.
Bjork said on Saturday that A&M was aware of the potential for expansion in the conference, but that "we were all surprised about the speed and acceleration piece of this. We knew about realignment potential and the future of the Big 12 in particular and what those dynamics were."
When asked if A&M would vote against Texas joining the conference, Bjork said they still need more information.
"We're not to that point," he said. "We have governance structure at our campus to work through. We don't know what a lot of the information is at this point in time to even say one way or another."
Bjork also declined to discuss any thoughts on how other SEC schools would vote on Texas and Oklahoma joining the conference, saying only that any procedural aspects or timing of expansion will remain to be seen. But he said he expects the SEC to be a place other schools would want to be.
"As you look at the future of college athletics, you have to look at it from the standpoint of who would not want to join the SEC?" Bjork said. "We're in a position to lead in this changing transformative landscape. So of course there's going to be interest in others joining with us. We think we paved the way, that we've set a great example of what that looks like here in the state of Texas, and we were not surprised that others really want to join us."
A Texas A&M board of regents meeting slated for Monday was set up for private discussion of the potential expansion, sources told ESPN, but had to be listed publicly due to state laws regarding meetings.
Texas A&M president M. Katherine Banks also released a statement on Saturday, saying the Aggies are committed to their membership in the SEC.
"The last few days have been challenging in many ways, and I recognize that change in college athletics often is unsettling for those who love their institutions," said Banks, who took over as president on June 1. "Rest assured, the chancellor, our athletic director, and I, and everyone involved in this matter are focused solely on what is best for Texas A&M University. Since 2011, we have been a proud member of the best intercollegiate athletic conference in history and we look forward to continued success in our SEC partnership for many years to come."
Bjork believes regardless of who's in the conference or when, the Aggies are in a position of strength.
"We're the largest university in Texas," he said. "We're stronger than we've ever been before competitively. We're on the cusp of the College Football Playoff. We've got great momentum right now. "