Texas A&M University & the SEC (What Price?)
Can’t say I (Aggie class of ’68) either agreed with or understood A&M’s joining the SEC when it first came down. “Mixed feelings” would describe my initial “knee jerk” reaction. But I’ve had two excellent sources to help me sort things out: 1) My son Chad (Aggie class of ’97) works for ESPN radio Austin and 2) I receive all the publications A&M season ticket holders get.
What I’ve come to realize is that for both sources the facts are “spun” in a political sense: 1) is spun too orange and white, and 2) is spun too maroon and white.
Here’s my take: A&M assumed it was obvious they had become a major university, and U of Texas assumed it was not. This move to affiliate with the SEC may not have happened if A&M had been willing to admit the U of Texas was its model all along and if U of Texas had been willing to admit that A&M had become their peer institution. I have maintained that if the powers of the two schools were in the hands of Chad’s generation, the old stereotypes and anamosities would have not been allowed to come to the fore. On the other hand, my generation has experienced the growth and evolution of both schools, especially that of A&M.
There is a sense in which there are no more farmers and teasips. This was driven home by the unfortunate bonfire tragedy. The two student bodies are mirror images of each other –both the same size and both predominantly from urban Texas centers.
I’m not sure A&M would have done this five years ago, and it certainly would have not done it earlier. In the past 3 years A&M has become a peer of the U of Texas in its athletic program (completing its goal of becoming a true peer of U of Texas); in that time no Big 12 school has won more conference and national championships than TAMU. Since A&M has not attained the level of success in football (where all the athletic $ is) as it has done in its other sports programs, this equality was not obvious to the media.
In my opinion, more important a catalyst to A&M’s 2011 decisions than the Longhorn Network was early summer 2010 when the U of Texas apparently spearheaded the idea for UT, A&M, TT, OU, OSU & Mizzou(?) to join the Pac 10 and make it the Pac 16 — a super conference to rival the SEC. I’m guessing this was UT’s attitude: “All right, listen up! This is what WE are going to do!”
It was the same arrogant presumption of leadership UT has foisted, in my opinion, upon both the old SWC and the Big 12. It was the reason Nebraska ultimatelly left the Big 12, something relatively new AD Bill Byrne at A&M knew first hand when he was AD at Nebraska.
A&M’s response, unofficially, was the same as the title of Gothic Slam’s song, “Who Died and Made You God?”
All UT had to do is ask nicely, treating its fellow conference members as business colleagues, not as little brothers or “red-headed stepchildren.”
In my opinion, OU, OSU, TT, and BU would do something similar to what Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, and A&M have done, if they could see their way clear.
A&M has just now achieved the academic, athletic, and financial status to see their way clear to join any conference they want. They are already the #1 or #2 sized institution in the SEC (Fla is the other “big boy.”) A&M brings lots more than most schools to any conference they join. This does not mean A&M will “throw its weight around” like the U of Texas does in the Big 12; A&M has apparently verified that funding is shared equally in the SEC, regardless of institution size and record upon the athletic field; in other words, it is a “level playing field,” something the U of Texas is not willing to participate in with other institutions, regardless of how they compare. Should one day down the road A&M forms an “Aggie TV Network,” I would fully expect the Aggies to share the revenues of their network equally among their peers in the SEC. If you think the U of Texas would share its Longhorn Network $ with other schools, well, in the words of Judas Priest, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’!”
Right now, the SEC is recognized as the premier football conference; A&M is betting its recruiting will improve in football to recruit Texas players to play with the best without leaving home — A&M is not “going” anywhere. I hope that happens, but whether it does or not is irrelevant. Even if A&M does not win a single game from now on in any sport, I am inclined to think A&M has made the best move for A&M, and not to the detriment of other schools. It is not about just the money (though that looks substantially better); it is not about W’s, L’s, and winning percentages; it is about coexisting in an environment of equal opportunity. A&M has higher and loftier goals than ever before, and the Big 12 has become a setting in which those goals are resisted more than in other settings.
Most of the SEC schools are land grant institutions, just like A&M. A&M, especially in the field of agriculture, has had an ongoing program of cooperation and interaction with several SEC schools for years. A&M is perfect to represent Texas culture to the South; the Aggies are as different in the rest of the SEC as Texans are to the rest of the States.
It must not be forgotten that just like A&M is not an all-male military school anymore, it is not just a football school anymore, it is not small anymore, it is not a rural backwater anymore. If you disagree, you need to visit College Station some time soon.
So, the questions, in my opinion, are what price traditional rivalries? What price seeking the path of maximum victories on the athletic field? It seems to me A&M faced those questions and found the answers to be “too high” — too high for a great university who has become so through determining its own destiny and its own identity. Too high for a university that needs room to become even greater. Too high for a university determined to control its own fate.
Years ago I witnessed A&M make a bold move and go co-ed and make the Corps of Cadets non-compulsory. I lived amidst a campus morphing before my very eyes into an irrevocably new identity. It took courage in the face of “sacred” traditions to make those decisions, but they were decisions that took A&M to top university status; it took time, but in the end the moves have been more than justified. I trust the bold and courageous decisions to the SEC will turn out equally justified. Only time will tell.
Finally, I must confess a personal rationalization that makes me comfortable with A&M joining the SEC, now that I have had time to think about it. Without any A&M family ties I chose the Aggies because they were different from all other schools — a “fit” for the personality I had developed (and, also, all Aggies I knew growing up had jobs). For the record, I certainly did not go to A&M for its sports teams; my first year there, the football team won one (1) game all season!
A&M flexes its individuality, following the old Davy Crockett piece of advice: “Always be sure you are right, then go ahead.” A&M needs not the advice of others; it has the confidence it can find its own way. I like that attitude. Overconfidence and bad choices are risked, but the independence the freedom to succeed or fail provides is worth the risk. A&M can always say, along with “Old Blue Eyes,” that it did it its way. Personally, A&M was a place that allowed me to steer my own course, to do it “my way.” I will always be grateful to A&M for that and for much, much more. A&M is further changing its identity — never stagnant, never still — just as my years there changed me from a HS graduate from a small west central Texas town to academic heights beyond my wildest dreams.