Should the Aggies go to the SEC?

June, 11, 2010

It's an interesting question. For the purposes of this blog, let's assume Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State go to the Pac 10 (11, right now, anyway), forcing Texas A&M to decide whether to go with them or head to the SEC. (Note: One scenario is that OU goes to the SEC as a travel partner for A&M, but let's just worry about what this would mean for the Aggies).

That's not an easy call, considering A&M has played its traditional rivals for so long. But the move does have some merit. Consider:

* The Aggies would be playing in the premier football conference in the country. The Pac 10, no doubt, would get stronger. But is still isn't the SEC.

* Recruiting. The Aggies would be able to tell recruits in Texas that they can play in the SEC without migrating to an out-of-state school. Texas is still going to get many of the top players and they'd still be playing their traditional rivals in the Pac 10. But this would give the Aggies a new niche in recruiting. It's something they can sell players that they can't right now. Maybe more players from Louisiana and other surrounding areas (and even Florida) would consider the Aggies.

* The SEC has the richest TV deal in college sports. If the conference adds the Dallas and Houston markets to its footprint and goes out and gets Virginia Tech to add the Washington D.C. market, an already lucrative TV deal gets even more lucrative. The Aggies, depending on how it all shakes out, could make as much or more than Texas would from TV revenue in the Pac 10. (BTW, this isn't the first time the SEC has flirted with the idea of adding Texas A&M or Texas. Check out this post on former Georgia coach Vince Dooley's thoughts about what happened in the early 1990s when Arkansas was added.)

* Attendance. Texas A&M sells out the regional rivalry games, like Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Texas, but doesn't sell out some others. But if your home schedule includes LSU, Auburn, Mississippi, Georgia and Kentucky the first year (as an example) and it's Alabama, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida and South Carolina the next year (the Arkansas game would stay in Dallas), that's pretty appealing. I could see that invigorating the fan base and give them a chance at more sellouts. That's not to say the current Big 12 teams aren't appealing. But how well are some of the Pac 16 schools going to travel to College Station? Are fans more interested in seeing even a South Carolina team that would be middle-of-the-road in the SEC East than they are Washington State from the other Pac 16 division? Bill Byrne has a long-term vision of enclosing Kyle Field, increasing capacity and adding video boards. Going to the SEC would help that.

* Conservative-minded A&M, with its tradition and history would fit well in the SEC. They'd get a chance to establish new rivalries with LSU, Alabama, Auburn and the rest of the SEC West. In fact, LSU and A&M have played a fair number of times and some would say they already have a bit of a rivalry.

* But what about the idea of going to a conference that is already extremely competitive? Would it hurt A&M from that standpoint? There's no doubt it would be tough (besides the SEC West, the Aggies would face Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and others in a rotational basis. Just ask Arkansas. They'll tell you all about it). And it's probably tougher to get through that row of teams than in the Pac 16. But the Aggies are already dealing with OU, Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech and have been middle-of-the-road in the Big 12 South. So it's not like they'd be leaving a competitive advantage to go to a disadvantage. And there's something to be made for a fresh start. Besides, if they can get going on the recruiting, they can build themselves into a very competitive team in the conference.

* Travel might be a wash. The reality is that if A&M goes with the other schools being talked about the Pac 10, they'll be traveling mainly in their division with OU, OSU, Tech and Texas and the two Arizona schools. The SEC is more spread out than that. Then again, you don't deal with the time zone changes as badly in the SEC, either. So I can't think travel is as big a consideration either way as some might think.

* What about the rivalry with Texas? I've seen some of the message boards (and received some emails) wondering if Texas would just decide not to play A&M any more if both weren't in the same conference. I guess that's possible. My colleague, Jeff Caplan, talked about it in this post. But the Longhorn-Aggie rivalry is good for both schools. What's wrong with playing each other in a nonconference game around Thanksgiving? Plenty of rivals do that now at the end of the season (Florida vs. Florida State, Clemson vs. South Carolina, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech..heck, Texas-OU used to be in this same boat playing in different conferences). That's still a game that would appeal to Texas recruits, if you ask me. Maybe I'm crazy, but I can't see Texas deciding to end that rivalry.

As for the political hurdles, the governor of the state is an Aggie. If he can be convinced that the Texas schools should break up, maybe the path would be clear for the Aggies to go.

It's something to think about for A&M. What do you think the Aggies should do? Should they go wherever Texas goes or break out on their own if the opportunity presents itself?



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