Texas A&M has officially notified the Big 12 that it will explore its options pertaining to conference affiliation, the university announced on Thursday.
Texas A&M says if it chooses to withdraw from the Big 12, it will do so in accordance with Big 12 bylaws, and would be supportive of the conference's efforts to secure a new member.
"As I have indicated previously, we are working very deliberately to act in the best long-term interests of both Texas A&M and the state of Texas. This truly is a 100-year decision," Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said in a release. "While we understand the desire of all parties to quickly reach a resolution, these are extremely complex issues that we are addressing methodically."
Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said Loftin's letter will be discussed by the conference's board of directors.
"It remains our strong desire for Texas A&M to continue as a member of the Big 12 and we are working toward that end," Beebe said in a statement. "However, if it is decided otherwise, the conference is poised to move aggressively with options."
On Aug. 14, the Southeastern Conference announced that its presidents had met and decided to take no action regarding Texas A&M or any other university regarding future expansion. The decision is believed to have been a statement to allow the SEC and Texas A&M to establish a clear timeline between the university's pursuit of the conference.
"I support president Loftin and our governing board's desire to explore all options regarding the future of Texas A&M University," Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said. "We all want what is best for the Aggies. I've met with all of our head coaches to keep them informed and we all remain excited and optimistic about the future of Texas A&M Athletics."
The SEC openly pursuing Texas A&M as a member of the Big 12 could open the conference up to litigation under tortious interference, or interference with a written contract.
"Ultimately, we are seeking to generate greater visibility nationwide for Texas A&M and our championship-caliber student-athletes, as well as secure the necessary and stable financial resources to support our athletic and academic programs," Loftin said. "As a public university, Texas A&M owes it to the state's taxpayers to maximize our assets and generate additional revenues both now and well into the future."
If the Aggies leave the Big 12, there would be plenty of interest from other schools to fill their spot in the conference. SMU is a school that has publicly expressed interest in joining the Big 12. The Mustangs want to join an automatic qualifying BCS conference and believe the Big 12 would be the best fit.
"We thought the timing was right," athletic director Steve Orsini said about SMU's desire to join a BCS conference. "We're ready to sell and move wherever that may take us. Our jobs at SMU are to continue to promote and strive for excellence in everything we do. So in athletics, the excellence level is being part of an automatic qualifying BCS conference."
The Big 12's BCS status is the biggest draw for the Mustangs, but Orsini said getting to play old rivals from the Southwest Conference also makes the Big 12 a great option.
"Regional rivalries are really what sets college athletics apart," he said. "It's the fans that make the rivalries. In Dallas we have alumni from all over the region as far as institutions -- Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma -- and these people work together side by side ... how great would it be to rekindle the regional rivalries around that water cooler? That would make the (automatic qualifying) conference in our region, currently the Big 12, very attractive to us to reach our goal."
The Mustangs play in Conference USA and Orsini said that the conference is trying to become an automatic qualifying conference, and that SMU would be happy staying in the league if it is able to achieve that status.
David Ubben covers Big 12 football for ESPN.com. Information from ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett was used in this report.