Beebe taking A&M-to-SEC rumors ‘very seriously’

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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.

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson frowns upon Group of Five playoff idea

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The chances a team from the Group of Five ever gets selected to play in the College Football Playoff range from slim to none. As such, talk from within the Group of Five has kicked up from time to time, especially over the last year, about a possible Group of Five-only version of the College Football Playoff. The reactions to that idea has been mixed, but add Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson to the group of people who thinks that idea should be tossed aside.

While attending meetings for the College Football Playoff, Benson told reporters he would prefer to see conference champions from the Group of Five (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) receive better bowl bids instead of playing in a minor version of the College Football Playoff.

It’s time to have a realistic conversation about creating a playoff for the Group of 5,” NIU athletic director Sean Frazier told Brett McMurphy, then of ESPN.com, back in December. “Why not?”

Well, there are a number of reasons. First, not everybody seems to be on board with playing the college football version equivalent of the NIT. Sure, it would be on TV and would get ratings, but the reward at the end of the JV playoff would mean little. Nobody would consider it a national championship. That’s what the FCS is for.

Benson is not alone in his anti-Group of Five playoff stance. MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher also has been on record saying he is not interested in such a plan, and he oversaw a member from his conference go undefeated last season and play in the Cotton Bowl (Western Michigan).

My initial reaction is that’s not something I’m interested in,” Steinbrecher said, according to MLive.com in December. “We’re part of the (College Football Playoff) system, and it’s done a lot of very good things for the Mid-American Conference.”

Without the support from two of the Group of Five commissioners (and you can almost be guaranteed you can add Mike Aresco of the American Athletic Conference to the list given the conference’s push to be considered a power conference), this idea is pretty much dead on arrival.

LSU’s Arden Key: I am not sitting out my junior year

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After taking a little time off from the LSU football program this spring, Arden Key calmed the nerves of Tigers fans on Wednesday with a simple message on his Twitter account.

Key announced to his Twitter followers he will be on the field for the Tigers this fall. Back in February, LSU released a statement saying Key would be stepping away from the program “for personal reasons.” What those personal reasons were is unknown, but he did so with the support of head coach Ed Orgeron and the entire football program at the time.

Key earned second-team All-SEC honors last season after leading LSU with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, a school record. With news, he would be stepping away from the program and the age of top NFL Draft prospects opting out of bowl games, the mere thought that Key might become the first potential NFL Draft pick the following season sitting out the entire football season was difficult to completely ignore. Fortunately, especially for LSU and not so much for LSU’s opponents, Key is choosing not to break that barrier at this time.

Texas A&M removes WR Kirk Merritt from roster

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After being charged for allegedly exposing himself to tutors at Texas A&M, wide receiver Kirk Merritt is no longer an Aggie. Merritt has been removed from the Texas A&M football program, according to a report from The Eagle. Though there has been no official statement confirming such news, Merritt’s name has been wiped off the team’s online roster.

Merritt pleaded not guilty to a pair of indecent exposure charges against him stemming from an incident last October. Merritt allegedly exposed himself to female academic tutors. Merritt was suspended by Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin a few days after the alleged incidents. The suspension was expanded to indefinite status following Merritt’s arrest on November 8. The suspension has since been lifted after the university’s conduct process wrapped up in January.

It has been a bit of a bumpy year for Merritt. Merritt left Oregon for Texas A&M last summer due to family reasons. He participated in Texas A&M’s spring practices but did not play in the spring game.

Big 12 revenue eclipses $300 million mark

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When it comes to revenues, the SEC and Big Ten continue to set the pace and leave the rest of the competition in the dust. That said, the Big 12 saw a second straight sizable revenue bump, according to recent tax returns.

As reported by USA Today, the Big 12 recorded a revenue of $313 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 on its tax return. The figure is up roughly $40 million from last year’s revenue, and the conference has now doubled its revenue since the 2012 fiscal year amid conference realignment changes. As for the revenue shares for each Big 12 program, the numbers ranged from $28 million to West Virginia to $28.9 million for Oklahoma. This marked the first time West Virginia and TCU were eligible to receive their full conference revenue shares as Big 12 members.

The biggest reason for the big jump in revenue came from increased bowl revenue. The Big 12 pulled in $114.5 million in bowl revenue in 2016, which was just $74.5 million in 2015. The 2015 season, which was included in the fiscal year outlined by this tax return, saw Oklahoma advance to the College Football Playoff and Oklahoma State be selected to play in a New Years Six bowl game (Sugar Bowl), which led to a larger bowl game distribution for the Big 12. The previous year saw no Big 12 team in the College Football Playoff (TCU, Baylor).

The Big 12 still lags well behind the SEC. Most will, of course. The SEC announced a revenue of $584.2 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with each SEC member receiving a revenue share of $40.4 million. The SEC and Big 12 are the only conference revenue numbers currently on record for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, but expect the Big Ten to be a solid second in the pecking order, with the ACC likely to come in front of the Big 12 and the Pac-12 to be toward the bottom of the pack.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby had a pay increase as well. Bowlsby reportedly earned a little more than $2.6 million in 2015, earning more than $70,000 than the previous year.