COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M sees no future in the Big 12. For now, the Aggies aren’t going anywhere and the league is in turmoil.
“We are being held hostage right now,” Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin told The Associated Press. “Essentially, we’re being told that you must stay here against your will and we think that really flies in the face of what makes us Americans for example and makes us free people.”
The angry statement came on a whirlwind Wednesday that left the future of the Big 12 up in the air. The Southeastern Conference kicked things off by saying it would be willing to make the Aggies the league’s 13th member, but only if legal issues could be cleared up.
What followed was a lot of finger-pointing.
Texas A&M accused Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe of going back on his word and suggested that one of its fellow league schools was deliberately sabotaging its departure to the SEC.
Loftin pointed to two different statements from Beebe within the past week.
The first was a letter sent Sept. 2 to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive that said the Big 12 “and its members” had agreed to waive their right to legal action over the Aggies’ move. Loftin then shared with the AP a copy of a Sept. 6 email sent by Beebe to Slive that said legal waivers from each school were actually far from being secure after Baylor raised the issue.
“If you seek waivers by the individual institutions, you must receive them from those institutions directly,” Beebe wrote. “I regret any confusion on this issue.”
The email was sent Tuesday night as SEC presidents and chancellors agreed to accept Texas A&M if the league has guarantees it won’t be sued over the latest move in conference realignment.
Loftin was clearly angry about Beebe’s statement.
“I felt that was really a violation of trust right there,” Loftin said. “We took this letter very seriously. We asked for such a statement. They gave it to us freely. It says here unanimous vote was taken and yet when we look at Beebe’s letter last night it says: `No we didn’t really mean that,’ and I find that to be rather difficult to digest.”
Loftin said he believes Beebe’s turnaround puts the future of the 15-year-old conference in more jeopardy than A&M’s leaving.
“By keeping us in in this limbo, they really are inhibited from bringing in other members to take our place,” Loftin said. “So they’re creating more instability by taking this particular direction. We were trying to clean this up for ourselves very quickly … so they could get about their business of replacing us in a prompt way and go forward and hopefully become a better conference. How can that happen right now when they’re insisting that we simply stay in this holding pattern indefinitely while they try to figure out what’s wrong?”
The Big 12, meanwhile, accused Texas A&M of making an extraordinary request that will put its members at risk of losing “millions” of dollars, presumably from the 13-year, $1 billion television deal reached with Fox Sports in April.
“This is the first time to my knowledge that a conference has been requested to waive any legal claims toward another conference for any damages suffered with a membership change,” Beebe said. “If the departure of Texas A&M results in significant changes in the Big 12 membership, several institutions may be severely affected after counting on revenue streams from contracts that were approved unanimously by our members, including Texas A&M.”
Loftin said he believes Texas A&M is “replaceable” when it comes to the TV contract.
“It was clearly stated to me by leadership of Fox that they felt like a school could be found and put in our place to satisfy their interests and therefore their contractual agreement would not be changed in any way,” he said. “So we feel that was a good way to say that we would not be destabilizing the conference by leaving.”
The Big 12’s future has been the subject of speculation for more than a year. Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) left in July, while Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are rumored to be eyeing the Pac-12.
Not as clear was where schools like Iowa State, Missouri Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Baylor might wind up if the Big 12 falls apart.
“We are basically sitting in a traffic jam and going nowhere fast,” Texas Tech President Guy Bailey said of discussions with Big 12 school officials on Wednesday.
“Recent events have put conference discussions in a holding pattern,” Bailey said. “However, we will continue to closely monitor the situation and actively pursue a course in the best interest of Texas Tech.”
At Missouri, Chancellor Brady Deaton — chairman of the Big 12 board — said the league “remains a strong conference, highly respected academically and athletically.”
The Big 12 held a conference call with seven of its 10 member administrators Wednesday. Loftin said Texas Kansas State and Oklahoma State were not on the call, and that Baylor spent much time explaining its position against the Aggies’ departure.
During the call, only Oklahoma said it could probably get permission from its regents to waive its right to take legal action, according to a person who was briefed on the discussion by a Big 12 school official but who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas also told Loftin that if Texas A&M wants to ask those programs not to sue, he must come to them individually, the person said. Texas Tech spokesman Chris Cook said it was “not our intent” to sue anyone, while Iowa State spokesman John McCarroll would say only that the university had not waived its right to pursue litigation regarding A&M.
Loftin said he had spoken with SEC officials and he understood how they would not want to be involved in litigation.
“We believe we have no real future in the Big 12,” Loftin said. “That’s clear to us and how that plays out right now I can’t really tell you. That’s still actively being worked through.”
As for who to blame?
After the Sept. 2 letter, Baylor was the first to “raise its hand” in numerous conversations with Big 12 and SEC officials about retaining its legal rights, a person with knowledge of the discussions said on condition of anonymity because the talks are considered private.
Loftin said one Big 12 school — he would not identify it by name — had been trying to stop A&M’s move from the beginning.
“Clearly for quite some time, one school has been specifically the one trying to both bring pressure on us politically for a while and now raising the threat of legal action,” he said.
Loftin said backtracking by Beebe and Big 12 will make it harder for the conference to have a successful future.
“Think about it,” he said. “If I’m a possible member of the conference, how would I feel about that right now? Here’s a school that has very carefully and deliberately gone through a process, communicated effectively every stage of the game what it was about and then declared finally: `We really want to be out of the conference.’
“Then you’re saying: `No, you can’t do that.’ Even though the bylaws clearly provide a way for that to happen. So why are we doing it this way and how are you going to be able to attract another school with this kind of attitude toward it. How do you achieve stability?”
For Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, Texas A&M’s departure could mean the end of one of college football’s greatest games.
“I just hope they don’t lose the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry,” said McCoy, the former Longhorns star. “Those are the biggest schools in Texas. You just can’t lose that.”
Former A&M star Von Miller, the second overall pick in this year’s draft now playing for the Denver Broncos, was excited about the impending move.
“It’s a great look, not just for football, but just for college sports in general,” Miller said. “We have a great tradition, a great fan base, and it’s a good look with the SEC.”
Copyright Associated Press