Wiedmer: SEC stiffs Texas A&M for now

Wiedmer: SEC stiffs Texas A&M for now

August 15th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

KNOXVILLE -- Assuming the deal was done, that Texas A&M was about to become the 13th member of the Southeastern Conference, someone asked Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray on Sunday afternoon what he thought of the Aggies joining the league.

"I haven't kept up with it," said Bray during the Vols' annual Preseason Media Day. "But new is always good. It would make the league more exciting."

It would. It still might one day. But apparently not today, which had been the rumor throughout much of the weekend.

Unless the SEC's presidents have completely misunderstood the definition of expansion, A&M will not join college football's top conference anytime soon. At least not until the league can find a second school willing to enter the SEC at the same time as the Aggies.

"The SEC Presidents and Chancellors met today and reaffirmed our satisfaction with the present 12 institutional alignment," said Florida president Dr. Bernie Machen on Sunday afternoon.

"We recognize, however, that future conditions may make it advantageous to expand the number of institutions in the league. We discussed criteria and process associated with expansion. No action was taken with respect to any institution including Texas A&M."

Grammar aficionados might understandably wince that there was no comma placed between "institution" and "including" in Machen's statement, especially given the NCAA presidents' recent desire to improve the academic image of college athletics.

But the more pertinent question for both the Aggies and the SEC is where each party goes from here.

Texas A&M certainly has some explaining to do within its current 10-member Big 12 since it didn't seem to do much advance consulting with its league brothers before beginning some rather serious flirting with the SEC.

In fact, an unnamed SEC official told the New York Times over the weekend that A&M president R. Bowen Loftin called SEC commish Mike Slive three weeks ago and expressed regret that the Aggies hadn't joined the SEC a year ago.

Now that the SEC has jilted it, A&M has pretty much lost whatever clout it had in the Big 12 regarding its dissatisfaction with its conference brothers -- specifically Texas, which inked a $300 million, 20-year deal with ESPN this past year for its own network.

No one else in the conference likes the deal any more than A&M does, but how much sway do the Aggies have left now that everyone else knows they have one foot out the door?

Then there's the SEC. Maybe A&M isn't yet in the league, but for how long? If Clemson or Florida State decides to jump into that seemingly bottomless pit of SEC money, won't the Aggies be holding their hands, the yin to their yang, both additions adding to the SEC's ch-ching?

According to ESPN it was just two weeks ago that Slive and the league's lawyers met with A&M officials to assess the difficulty in the Aggies freeing themselves from their Big 12 contracts. Would it surprise anyone if similar discussions weren't going on with other programs?

Yet this also assumes that the SEC presidents are united in expansion, which might be a big mistake. Take, for instance, the cases of Clemson and Florida State. Both programs come from states that already house one SEC school -- South Carolina where Clemson is concerned, Florida with FSU.

Yes, adding those ACC members seemingly strengthens the SEC and weakens the ACC. Were Georgia Tech to join Georgia in the SEC, the league could also lock up the entire Peach State, including Atlanta and its coveted Georgia Dome, which the SEC must occasionally share with the ACC these days when it comes to their conference basketball tournaments.

But let's briefly shrink the focus from what's best for the SEC to what's best for a single school. South Carolina, Georgia and Florida can currently use the impact of playing in the SEC -- with its five straight national championships -- as a rather large recruiting tool against signing with ACC members Clemson, Georgia Tech or Floida State, respectively.

Let those schools into the SEC and that advantage is gone. Strengthening the league could weaken current members. Perhaps that's the biggest reason A&M was denied, for to accept the Aggies was to possibly be forced to accept Clemson, Tech or FSU.

What might make sense if A&M remains a target would be to go after the ACC's Virginia Tech, which would provide geographical balance without threatening the recruiting bases of current league members.

Of Sunday's meeting, Arkansas chancellor Dave Gearhart said, "It was really an open discussion, not just about A&M, but about the future of the conference and the future of other conferences ... But I think the decision was to make no decision at this particular time."

Only time will tell if "this particular time" means a week, a month or a year or more.