The college football world was once again thrown into a realignment frenzy on Thursday as news broke of the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners’ discussions about joining the SEC. Texas A&M Athletic Director Ross Bjork spoke out against the move when asked at SEC Media Days, and rightfully so. It’s hard to find reasons why the Longhorns and Sooners joining the fray benefits the Aggies.
How does Texas A&M feel about UT potentially joining the SEC? ... Not good. Not good at all.— Jeff Jones (@JeffJonesSports) July 21, 2021
"We want to be the only SEC program in the state of Texas."
-Ross Bjork, Texas A&M Athletics Director pic.twitter.com/pR17eM9aQK
From a competitive standpoint, A&M currently enjoys a significant recruiting advantage over Texas and Oklahoma by being in the SEC. So of course A&M wants to maintain that advantage. But let’s remember that when A&M first made the move to go to the SEC, Bjork wasn’t in College Station, in fact he wasn’t even in the SEC. He was a newly minted athletic director at Western Kentucky. So he can be forgiven for saying that separating ourselves from Texas is a primary reason that A&M changed conferences. With regard to the reasons why the Aggies bolted the Big 12 for the SEC in 2012, Texas and Oklahoma crashing the party changes remarkably little.
A decade ago, the college football landscape seemed to be shifting rapidly, and for those in the Big 12, crumbling under their feet. Nebraska had left for the Big Ten, while Colorado headed west to the Pac 12. It had been only a year since Texas had led the charge for several Big 12 schools to join the Pac 12 as well. Between the conference realignment talks and the launch of the Longhorn Network, it was clear that Texas was going to do what was best for Texas, regardless of how it affected A&M or other schools. The leaders in College Station did not want our future to be at the mercy of the whims of leaders in Austin, so A&M beat them to the punch. It’s not that “leaving Texas in the dust,” was an imperative, it’s just that staying with them was no longer a priority either. You can hear about this in detail in this TEDx Talk from President Loftin himself. The whole thing is relevant, but he outlines A&M’s specific rationales for the move starting at the 14:44 mark.
The Aggies sought a conference that would secure their place at the college football power table for the foreseeable future. They sought a conference that had equal conference revenue sharing among members (and would also give A&M a significant financial uptick in the process). Joining the SEC gave them both of those things, and even if the Longhorns and Sooners come into the fold, they still have those things.
Have the Aggies enjoyed the recruiting pitch of being “The SEC school in Texas?” Absolutely we have. Has their been significant schadenfreude as we watched the Longhorns toil in relative mediocrity in what is universally considered an inferior conference? Undoubtedly. But the benefits A&M reaped over the past decade still have a chance to pay dividends in the future even with our old rivals back on the schedule. The principles that drove A&M’s decision to join the SEC remain unchanged.
A&M has seen drastic improvements in facilities, revenue, recruiting, ability to hire elite coaches, and of course, on-field performance compared to their days in the Big 12, and the vast majority of that is attributable to being in the SEC, not simply being separated from Texas.
If the Longhorns had been willing to give up the Longhorn Network (as is rumored with this move) and agree to equal conference revenue sharing back in 2012, there’s a good chance the SEC would have welcomed both schools, and A&M would have had no issue with it at all (remember that Texas A&M was the side who wanted to keep the football series going even after departing the conference). When the move was made, then Texas A&M President Bowen Loftin described it as a “100-year decision,” and that decisions was never contingent upon being distanced from the Longhorns.
Some may say that these two Big 12 powers joining the SEC negates A&M’s advantage, and diminishes the importance of their move to the SEC. But if anything, the fact that Texas is willing to give up what gave them a distinct advantage, both in visibility and financially, in the Big 12 to join the SEC drives home how correct A&M’s decision was, and continues to be. Had we not made that decision, who’s to say that the Ags wouldn’t be among the teams that Texas is potentially leaving in a lurch in the Big 12.