At this point in the game — because, let’s face it, it certainly feels like one — it would seem that Texas A&M is more than slightly leaning East when it comes to sitting on the proverbial fence separating conference affiliations. Whether or not the Aggies will actually make a move to the SEC ultimately — and for the 100th time — depends on if/when they get a call from SEC commissioner Mike Slive inviting them to join the toughest conference in the country.
But A&M’s current commissioner, the Big 12’s Dan Beebe, doesn’t see this “will they or won’t they?” as anything short of serious business. He would know too. Beebe has already done as magnificent of a job as any commissioner in the country (minus OG Larry Scott) in keeping the Big 12 together after the departures of Nebraska and Colorado last summer.
Remember: Beebe kept Texas in the Big 12, which was monumental, and signed a roughly $150 million annual first and second-tier television rights deal with ESPN and FOX that guaranteed each conference member would make significantly more money. The long-term future of the conference is far from a certainty, but for the present day and time, Beebe is prepared to keep the Big 12 afloat for as long as possible.
Even if that means as a nine-member conference.
“I’ll put it this way, I’m taking it very seriously,” Beebe told the Austin American Statesman of A&M’s flirtation with the SEC. “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.
“There’s a huge risk if an institution leaves its geographic proximity and rivalries. In the long run, it can create a lot of problems.”
But Beebe has his own problems to deal with. The root of A&M’s re-aroused displeasure with the Big 12 coincidentally coincided with the Longhorn Network’s desire to air high school and Big 12 sporting events on the network. Trying to keep Texas happy, while keeping the other nine conference members equally satisfied, or even approximately so, is proving to be an uphill battle.
But Beebe has kept his conference together before. If A&M departs, Beebe will have to work to keep a slowly deteriorating group bound together once again. When and how Beebe faces that challenge is beginning to turn into an unbearable question mark.
“I don’t know if this could go down in a month or a year or in weeks,” a source told the Statesman. “But it’s taken on a life of its own. I would just tell A&M to be careful what you wish for.”
And with exit fees remaining the same for A&M as they did for Nebraska and Colorado, the Aggies will be wishing for an expensive buyout, so to speak.
In either case, Beebe is prepared to move forward as at least a nine-team conference if A&M does decide to part ways. That is assuming, of course, that the SEC doesn’t snatch Oklahoma at the same time.
“You always have to think about all the possibilities,” he said of any possible expansion. “Twelve was always the maximum number of teams that were desired, but that’s as far as I can go publicly.”
The source told Kirk Bohls of the AAS that Houston, Louisville, Brigham Young and Air Force were all possible replacements if expansion was ever discussed in the Big 12 down the road.
If there is a Big 12 down the road — and, sorry Aggie fans, but that won’t hinge solely on your departure. Will it be crippling? Absolutely, but it’ll be Texas who makes or breaks the future of the Big 12.