The Southeastern Conference has decided to mess with the state of Texas.
In a decision that seemed inevitable, the league announced Wednesday that Texas A&M University has been invited to join the current 12-member collection. The immediate acceptance of the Aggies has been put on hold, however, because at least one Big 12 school is threatening legal action should Texas A&M bolt.
University of Florida president Bernie Machen, the chairman of the SEC's presidents and chancellors, said in a statement that the league received unanimous written assurance from the Big 12 on Sept. 2 that it was free to accept Texas A&M as a new member. Machen added that a meeting was held Tuesday night with the intention of accepting Texas A&M's application.
Hours before that meeting, SEC officials were notified about a Big 12 institution, widely reported as Baylor University, withdrawing its previous consent. There were reports Wednesday night that multiple Big 12 schools have decided not to wave their rights to pursue litigation.
"The SEC has stated that to consider an institution for membership, there must be no contractual hindrances to its departure," Machen wrote. "The SEC voted unanimously to accept Texas A&M University as a member upon receiving acceptable reconfirmation that the Big 12 and its members have reaffirmed the letter dated September 2, 2011."
When contacted by the Associated Press, Texas A&M president Bowen Loftin said, "We are being held hostage right now."
By adding Texas A&M, the SEC would have 13 schools for the first time since 1933-40, which were the first eight years of the league's existence. Sewanee withdrew after the 1940 football season, while Georgia Tech left after 1963 and Tulane after '65, giving the league 10 members that remained intact until Arkansas and South Carolina accepted invitations in 1990 and joined the football ranks in '92.
Texas A&M also would give the league a pair of maroon-clad teams.
"I guess we could have the maroon game for a maroon jersey or trophy or something like that," Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen said.
Texas A&M has an enrollment of 49,429, which is the largest among Big 12 schools and would rank second in the SEC behind Florida (52,271). The Aggies have been playing football since 1894 and are noted for their Twelfth Man, which is their boisterous student body that stands the entire game.
The Aggies have played Arkansas 67 times in football and LSU 50 times, most recently in January's Cotton Bowl, but they have yet to face Florida, South Carolina or Vanderbilt.
"I certainly understand adding a Texas team to the conference," LSU coach Les Miles said. "Texas A&M is a traditional football power, and it allows us a greater view of Texas. At the same time, I'm kind of torn, because I coached in the Big 8 and Big 12 and have a tremendous respect for those teams."
Said Florida's Will Muschamp: "Texas A&M has a great tradition and an outstanding program. I really think we're heading to 16-team leagues eventually. I think there will be four of them. Whatever our conference decides, I'm fine with it."
Texas A&M announced Aug. 31 that it would leave the Big 12 by July 2012 if the school received an invitation to join another league. The primary reason for its departure is ESPN's creation of the Longhorn Network for Texas, which gives the Longhorns a sizable exposure advantage over the rest of their league.
The Big 12 only has 10 members even with the Aggies, having lost Nebraska to the Big Ten, which has 12 schools, and Colorado to the Pac-12. Nebraska paid the Big 12 an exit fee of $9.25 million, while Colorado's fee was $6.9 million.
By adding Texas A&M, SEC football teams could enjoy an enhanced recruiting presence in the largest of the lower 48 states. Arkansas already has more than 20 players from Texas, and Miles went so far as to say "Texas will become SEC country."
Those coaches at schools a little further from the Texas state line didn't share that same enthusiasm. South Carolina's Steve Spurrier said his program would continue to focus on Georgia and Florida in addition to the Carolinas, and then there was Kentucky's Joker Phillips.
"When Arkansas and South Carolina joined, it didn't help us in those states," Phillips said.