Texas A&M move to SEC held up by legal threat

By John Zenor
AP Sports Writer

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Southeastern Conference cleared the way for Texas A&M to join its ranks — with a wrinkle.

Baylor is considering suing if the Aggies leave the Big 12.

If and when the legal issues are resolved, the SEC will make the Aggies the league’s 13th team to complete a courtship Texas A&M initiated in July. The potential union announced Wednesday could lead to a massive realignment of the college football landscape, a significant push toward 16-team super conferences.

The SEC was set to become the first BCS conference with more than 12 members. League officials said they received “unanimous written assurance” from the Big 12 on Sept. 2 that the SEC was free to accept Texas A&M. The 12 presidents and chancellors all voted in favor of the addition late Tuesday.

Then the deal hit a snag.

“We were notified (Tuesday) afternoon that at least one Big 12 institution had withdrawn its previous consent and was considering legal action,” said Florida President Bernie Machen, chairman of the SEC leaders. “The SEC has stated that to consider an institution for membership, there must be no contractual hindrances to its departure.”

Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe said he “regrets” the confusion.

Beebe sent SEC Commissioner Mike Slive an email Tuesday night — obtained by AP — saying that Baylor had indicated “that its governing board has not waived the university’s rights” to take legal action against the move. He said the SEC must get waivers from each institution. Beebe had indicated in a Sept. 2 letter that the Big 12 and its members would “waive any and all legal actions” if Texas A&M left — as long as it happened by Thursday.

SEC spokesman Charles Bloom declined further comment on Wednesday.

Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement the Aggies “are disappointed in the threats made by one of the Big 12 member institutions to coerce Texas A&M into staying in Big 12.

All the legal infighting “has derailed SEC expansion for the moment,” said LSU Chancellor Mike Martin

“Clearly there is instability and a bit of chaos within the Big 12, which we hope will be resolved for the sake of Texas A&M and, indeed, for all of college sports,” Martin said.

Mississippi Chancellor Dr. Dan Jones said the SEC is not willing to get into a domestic dispute between Texas A&M and the Big 12, or wage a court battle for the Aggies.

“It’s in the hands of Texas A&M and the Big 12,” Jones said. “We’ve been clear that we’d be happy to receive them if they’re unfettered of obligations. We gathered to have a vote. We had a letter that clearly gave us legal clearance. It was frustrating to be gathered and then have things pulled out from under Texas A&M like that. We’re disappointed for Texas A&M.”

And there’s a lot of money at stake.

Texas A&M has made it clear it wants a higher profile and more revenue and that the Aggies are unhappy with the creation of the Longhorn Network at rival Texas. And the SEC would also reap additional revenue and extended visibility as a result of a move into the state of Texas.

“You know how many households there are in Texas? 8.9 million,” a person familiar with the situation has told AP previously, adding that the league had to listen when the Aggies came knocking. “Why would we want to hand that to the Pac 12 or any another conference?”

The person said it’s a “business decision” for the SEC.

The Aggies will likely have to pay an exit fee for leaving the Big 12. It cost Nebraska $9.25 million and Colorado $6.9 million. But that shouldn’t hold the move up considering the SEC distributed a record $18.3 million in revenue to each of the 12 members this year.

With that kind of money — and possibly even more to be had — conference realignment across the country could be on the horizon.

Said Tennessee coach Derek Dooley: “The landscape is changing. It’s that old saying: It’s not about the money, it’s about the amount.”

The poaching of schools is already is well under way.

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long told the AP that his school had been contacted about joining the shrinking Big 12 — which has already lost Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12). Oklahoma president David Boren said last week that multiple conferences have expressed interest in the Sooners and he expects a decision within a few weeks.

Oklahoma State billionaire booster Boone Pickens also said he doesn’t think the Big 12 will survive much longer and predicted the Cowboys will eventually join the Pac-12.

It might not be over for the SEC, either, if the league that has won the last five BCS championships in football decides to add at least a 14th team.

But David Williams, Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor for University Affairs and Athletics, doesn’t think the SEC needs to rush to add a 14th team to maintain a balanced schedule.

“The Big 10 stayed at 11 for quite awhile,” he said. “I think that our folks at the conference, they’ll work all of this out; 12, 13, 14 whatever it is we’ll be a happy family.”

AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins, Beth Rucker and David Brandt contributed to this report.