Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Winds of SECession

By Jean Neuberger

Just when you thought all the conference talk had died down, a storm of passion rose from the hot Texas sun, bringing the discussion immediately back into the spotlight.

It was a surprise to few that Texas A&M was allegedly looking into leaving the Big 12/Big 12 minus two/Big Texas plus nine other schools, for the greener pastures of the SEC. This was not a decision made in haste; rather it was an announcement of the final straw being broken by their rivals in Austin.

It started in the old Southwest Conference, noted for unequal revenue sharing, massive cheating in the '80s and Texas calling most of the shots. Frank Broyles, then-athletic director at Arkansas, saw the system as a sinking ship and quietly hinted to then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer that Arkansas was interested in joining if the offer ever came up. In 1990, it did. While Arkansas leaped, A&M and Texas, thought to be potential SEC candidates, blocked each other from admission, and the downfall of the SWC began.

When Texas, A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech made the move to the Big 12, slowly but surely, some of the bad habits of the SWC started to creep into the new conference. The league office moved from Kansas City to Dallas. Again, unequal revenue sharing gave Texas the biggest piece of the pie and they continued to seize control amongst the conference institutions. Another old-school athletic director, Tom Osborne, couldn't stomach the Texas power grab and made a leap for it, along with Missouri, who had been longing for Big Ten membership for some time. The Huskers got their ticket out, and it's doubtful those in Lincoln are missing their old conference.

The point is simple: don't blame the SEC for stirring the realignment pot. Don't blame Texas A&M for it either. As the old Mark Chestnut song says, "blame it on Texas."

Texas has made the most of their size, statewide and school-wide. Their enormous pockets keep money flowing into Austin with ease. College athletics are a money game and the Longhorns play it well. It's hard to blame them for starting a new $300 million network with ESPN. If the giant sports animal offers you cash and extra publicity, you take it.

However, Texas can't have all the rules tipping in their favor. Unequal revenue sharing, an extra network (which will keep them from Pac-12 waters anytime soon), the ability to have high school recruits on their station and recruits who are undecided to sit and drool at the TV set and the possibilities and pretty much the head seat at the Big 12 table. Think A&M, or any other school, could be a little miffed ... and jealous ... about that?

And with all of that, the majority of A&M fans (and maybe their administration, too) stand ready to make the boldest of decisions. The Aggies are willing to jump off the Texas ship and head into a conference whose road to the NCAA title game is the toughest in college football, just to be able to play on a more level playing field. A school known deeply for tradition seems ready to throw some traditions out the window for a few extra shreds of dignity.

Whether you think it's honorable or stupid, you have to give A&M some credit for taking a stand.

The ball is not in A&M's court, nor the SEC's, nor the Big East, ACC, and Big 10, whose commissioners have apparently been talking together about this issue. It doesn't sit with Missouri, Florida State, or Clemson, who have been rumored as candidates for the SEC, as well. The ball sits firmly in Austin's court. If the Horns want to shake the college football world up, they have the power to do so. If they choose not to, which admittedly would seem odd, given the power and money they could possibly relinquish, they could do that, too.

But it's their call. The eyes of the NCAA are upon Texas.

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