Posted by Adam Jacobi
The SEC has just finished its scheduled meeting of its presidents and chancellors, and unfortunately for secession-minded Texas A&M fans, the conference is staying put at 12 teams -- for now. Here's the full statement released by presidents and chancellors chair (and Florida president) Bernie Machen:
“The SEC Presidents and Chancellors met today and reaffirmed our satisfaction with the present 12 institutional alignment. 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.”
What Machen didn't say is that Texas A&M won't be invited to the SEC; if the chancellors and presidents didn't want the Aggies to come, the statement would likely have been worded with a bit more finality. As it stands, the conference is clearly leaving the door open to expansion.
It's also worth pointing out that the Texas A&M Board of Regents has yet to authorize school president R. Bowen Loftin (who did not attend the SEC's meeting) to negotiate its conference standing; that action is set to take place Monday. Texas A&M is still a member of the Big 12, and it might not even be legal for the SEC to invite the Aggies at this point. In other words, the "future conditions" Machen talks about may be as simple as Texas A&M applying to the SEC, or at the very least setting an end date to its affiliation to the Big 12. Either way, the metaphorical ball likely wasn't in the SEC's court to begin with.
Moreover, Texas state Rep. Dan Branch has called for a hearing before his Committee on Higher Education on Tuesday, with officials from the Big 12, SEC and Texas A&M invited. The Texas state legislation has been active in conference affiliation matters in the past; it pushed for Baylor's inclusion alongside Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech in the "Pac-16" plan that eventually fell through, for example. Branch has said it would be "inappropriate" for Texas A&M to go to the SEC before the Tuesday meeting, and Loftin said that he would be present at that meeting, and that the Regents.
Arkansas chancellor Dave Gearheart attended the meeting, and said that while no action was taken on Texas A&M, the school was certainly one of the topics of discussion. "It was really an open discussion, not just about A&M but about the future of the conference and the future of other conferences," Gearhart said. "We did talk about Texas A&M. It's a great university, a great place. But I think the decision was to make no decision at this particular time."
This issue isn't put to bed by any stretch. An unnamed SEC official told the New York Times' Pete Thamel that the meeting was to let Texas A&M "get its house in order." But for now, Texas A&M is stuck with the Big 12. Saturday, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe issued a statement that the conference had "unanimous desires" for Texas A&M to remain a member, and that the conference "took actions [...] to adequately address those concerns" that Texas A&M had raised.
Texas A&M's main problem revolved around the upcoming Longhorn Network, the Texas-affiliated sports channel set to launch this fall. In particular, Texas A&M was among many Big 12 members who objected to the channel's plans to air an in-conference football game and high school games involving high-profile recruits. Both of those options have since been taken off the table, with the NCAA issuing a moratorium on all collegiate networks airing high school games.
Still, the mere suggestion that these ideas were planned by the network may have been enough to sour Texas A&M on the Big 12 for good, regardless of what the Longhorn Network actually does, and it probably didn't help matters when Beebe told the conference that it can survive without Texas A&M and speculated on candidates to replace the Aggies, namely Houston and Notre Dame.
Members of the Texas A&M coaching staff and its players declined any comment that indicated any interest in the potential move. Head coach Mike Sherman said "I don't pay a lot of attention to [the SEC issue]" after an afternoon practice on Sunday. Senior safety Trent Hunter agreed, saying "it's not anything that's going to affect us playing SMU in that first week."
Loftin issued a statement through Texas A&M on Sunday on the issue.
"As we have seen over the past several days, there has been a considerable amount of misinformation regarding these discussions and any associated timelines. The chairman of our board has indicated that the regents will proceed with tomorrow's agenda item, which authorizes the president of Texas A&M to take all actions related to athletic conference alignment. I will also accept Chairman Branch's invitation to participate in his committee's hearing on Tuesday. These are extremely complex issues, and it is imperative that we proceed methodically and in the best interests of Texas A&M."
RapidReporter Brent Zwenerman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.