Texas A&M notified Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe yesterday that the university "will leave the conference effective June 30, 2012," according to Suzanne Halliburton of the AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN. A&M will "petition to join" the 12-school SEC, while the Big 12 "scrambles to find a replacement for the league [if] schools decide, like A&M, to move elsewhere." If a "suitable replacement isn't found, the Big 12 could disband, effectively changing the landscape of big-time college football." In such a scenario, the Pac-12 "could pick up the pieces." Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott yesterday said that his conference "has no plans for immediate expansion, though he did leave open the possibility." Halliburton notes one issue for A&M "will be settling the exit fee it will have to pay for leaving the Big 12." Conference bylaws state that "any school breaking its contract to leave early would have to pay 90 percent of its revenue over a two-year period." That estimate is $28M, based on the $11M the school "received this summer -- primarily from TV contracts for football and men's basketball as well as shared bowl revenue of Big 12 teams -- and the projected $20 million it is scheduled to be paid for this academic year." A&M AD Bill Byrne yesterday on his blog wrote that the deal between ESPN and the Univ. of Texas for the creation of Longhorn Network "changed the Big 12 landscape, making it difficult for the Aggies to stay." A&M believes that LHN "would give Texas an insurmountable competitive advantage in recruiting" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 9/1). Byrne added, "There have also been other developments during the past several months that have caused a great deal of uncertainty within the Big 12. You all know the landscape of the Big 12 Conference was altered by the creation of the Longhorn Network" (USA TODAY, 9/1).
PICKING UP THE PIECES: Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said, "This is a 100-year decision that we have addressed carefully and methodically." In N.Y., Pete Thamel reports the exit fee and a "vote by SEC presidents, who are expected to accept A&M once any legal fears are eased, should lead to the Aggies’ admission into the SEC." Attention then "turns to which university the Big 12 will bring in to replace Texas A&M." Schools on the "long-stated wish of league officials for a 10th member are Notre Dame, Arkansas and Brigham Young," but chances are "minuscule that Notre Dame or Arkansas would leave their current situations for the Big 12." If the SEC accepts A&M, it likely will eye a 14th member school, and one "plucked from the Atlantic Coast Conference or the Big East, could prompt a major shift in the college sports landscape" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/1). The SEC yesterday said that it "had not received an application from Texas A&M to join the league and that it would have no further comment." Loftin said leaving the Big 12 is "in the best interest of Texas A&M." He added that he "hopes the move can be amicable and presumably hopes to negotiate a reasonable exit fee." With A&M on its way out, the Big 12 "has formed a committee to look for replacements." UT said that it "remains committed to the Big 12 even with its historic rivalry with Texas A&M in jeopardy" (AP, 8/31). ESPN’s Joe Schad said there is "no question that Texas A&M wouldn’t have put themselves out on this long limb unless they felt very strongly that they had the nine of twelve required votes from the SEC presidents that will enable them to join a conference which they feel gives them financial stability and … the highest visibility for their student-athletes” (“College Football Live,” ESPN, 8/31).
TV GUIDE: In Dallas, Barry Horn reports Fox declined to comment yesterday on whether A&M's impending departure affects the network's new TV partnership with the Big 12, which begins in '12. If the Big 12 does not replace A&M, Fox "could leave the $1.17 billion deal in place; it could ask for a rights fee reduction; or it could seek to void the deal." For Fox, the "dream addition would have to be Notre Dame." The school's home football games belong to NBC through the '15 season, but its "conference road games would belong to Fox." Horn notes if the Big 12 doesn’t add another school, ESPN, "like Fox, has standard language in all its conference TV deals to account for changes in conference makeup." Also, "expect the SEC to move to re-open its television contracts to account for the additional schools that will divvy up the dollars as well as for the expanded number of homes in the conference" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 9/1). The Fox-Big 12 contract "technically could be voided with Texas A&M's departure and lead to legal issues for the Aggies." A source indicated that the Big 12 "has indications from the network that if a suitable replacement can be found that 'they will be fine and keep the contract as is.'" The source also said that the contract "could remain in force at a discounted rate even if the Big 12 had only its remaining nine teams" (AP, 8/31).
DON'T WANNA MESS WITH TEXAS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Forsyth & Everson write, "Why did A&M decide to leave so soon after swearing loyalty to the soon-to-be nine-team Big 12? Texas." Former Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach said that the financial imbalance between UT and other Big 12 schools "has led to resentment, especially with the Aggies." Leach: "I think they're jealous of Texas's money. That feeling of inequality in the Big 12, it's certainly created some disruption" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/1). In San Antonio, Buck Harvey writes ESPN "created an outrageous conflict of interest, while also going against smart programming, by giving Texas" a 20-year deal for LHN (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 9/1). In Houston, Richard Justice noted UT is "being portrayed as petty and greedy," and the school is "guilty on both accounts." There was a "dearth of leadership from the moment the seeds of this divorce were planted." Justice: "If only there’d been someone with enough stature to bring the two sides together and force them to talk to one another instead of at one another" (CHRON.com, 8/31). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said A&M is “jealous of Texas” because Texas “has a shiny, new television deal with ESPN and Texas A&M didn’t get that and so now they want out” (“PTI,” ESPN, 8/31). Meanwhile, Texas state lawmakers "appear unwilling to compel" UT and A&M "to continue the traditional intrastate football matchup once the Aggies bolt the Big 12." Texas state House Higher Education Chair Dan Branch said that he "trusts the judgment of the school leaders, who have been open with him and other state leaders about the decision to leave the Big 12" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 9/1).
READY OR NOT ... USA TODAY's Kelly Whiteside notes the Big 12 "could take further hits in coming weeks." If the "dominoes continue to fall, four super conferences of 16 teams each might be the eventual end game." The Pac-12's Scott "has repeatedly said mega-conferences are the next wave of change." He said yesterday, "We have no current plans to expand the Pac-12. However, I have made clear my vision that the health, stability and future of college athletics will likely include further consolidation and re-alignment. While I cannot predict if and when this might make sense for us, we will listen to and evaluate any scenario that would benefit our member institutions, our student-athletes and our fans" (USA TODAY, 9/1). In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell wrote under the header, "Big 12 Could Use An Image Boost" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 8/30). ESPN's Joe Schad said, "The Big 12 has been bracing for this, they've been preparing for this. This is not a surprise to them" ("College Football Live," ESPN, 8/31).
STAYING OUT OF TROUBLE: On Long Island, Greg Logan notes last year, the "prospect of more upheaval would have sparked fears about the Big East's future as one of six BCS conferences, but the league added TCU's powerful football program for 2012 and the anticipation of a major TV deal next fall has restored sound footing." Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said, "As we approach our upcoming television negotiations starting in September of 2012, there's no question we're extremely well-positioned. This next round of negotiations will propel us to a place where we'll be achieving equity with the other major conferences in terms of revenue and exposure" (NEWSDAY, 9/1). In St. Louis, Stu Durando notes conference memberships "might be ready to shift once more, but the Big Ten isn't going to participate." Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said, "We're about as comfortable as we can be with where we are. We've said that we will continue to monitor the landscape, but we have closed down active expansion and have no plans to seek new members" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 9/1).