Well, I strive on this blog to be 100% right approximately 1% of the time. I’ll have to co-sign this column by Stewart Mandel: it’s looking more and more like I was wrong about the Texas A&M to the SEC rumors (as he also admitted), but it still doesn’t quite make sense to either of us from a rational perspective. Up until literally a few hours ago, it has all looked like completely fan-based chatter. I’m honestly taken aback that it now appears that the SEC university presidents are going to meet on Sunday to discuss an A&M invite and the school’s Board of Regents will follow up with a meeting on Monday. (We’ll address various rumors regarding schools like Florida State, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma and Missouri if necessary if something actually happens next week.) I’ve always understood why Texas A&M fans wanted to go to the SEC and frankly, never disputed that it would be a good move for them. The SEC is absolutely a superior conference to the Big 12 (both competitively and financially) and any Longhorns that think A&M wouldn’t benefit from moving are being disingenuous. That’s the whole reason why that I argued in my last post that it would be UT people more than those from Baylor or Texas Tech that would work to block such a move. I certainly understand the resentment/anger factor, as well. As an Illinois alum, I’m still envious of Michigan’s central connection to the The Big Chill, which is a landmark achievement in the history of white people dancing. Despite some interesting comments from various A&M factions about my loyalties or biases, I personally have nothing against the Aggies at all.
That being said, I share Mandel’s befuddlement about what’s in it for the SEC (although for slightly different reasons). Let me be clear: my opinion has nothing to do about the value of Texas A&M itself. As I’ve stated many times before, Texas A&M is extremely valuable and I could see why the SEC would want them in a vacuum where there is no domino effect on the rest of the college football landscape or there’s a clean slate in terms of TV contracts. However, there’s a fairly good chance that we’ll see significant domino effects if this move occurs and, more importantly, it continues to be unclear to me how the SEC can monetize expansion with the length of its current TV contracts with ESPN and CBS. Dennis Dodd yesterday stated that all conferences have a “look-in” provision that Mike Slive had described, so it’s not as if though that the SEC has some unique terms here where they get to expand at will in a manner that other conferences aren’t able to do. At the very least, it’s not as easy as “expansion = look-in trigger = more $$$”, or else we’d see conferences expand every single time that their own TV contracts fell behind by a little bit. To paraphrase a wise little green dude, that leads to fear, and fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering. To the extent that the SEC can open up its current TV contracts by expanding, every other conference can do it, too. If it’s that “easy”, then the conference with the most incentive to expand is the ACC considering that the deal that they signed last year is looking quite outdated and could get outpaced by the Big East next year if the status quo holds. It’s for those reasons why conferences only have a “look-in” when they expand, but networks have an explicit termination right in the event of conference contraction.
From a long-term perspective, Texas A&M certainly adds a ton of value to the SEC. The Aggies have a rabid fan base and truly bring in the entire state of Texas as a market. The recruiting benefits are also unquestioned. Still, I still haven’t hard anyone explain how the SEC is going to cajole ESPN and CBS to throw more money around when their TV contracts last until the mid-2020s. It’s one thing for those networks to maintain a good working relationship with the SEC, but entirely another to have to throw hundreds of millions of more at contracts that are locked-in for over a decade. Maybe ESPN and CBS could ensure that the SEC schools still get the same per-school share (so the current SEC members end up being revenue neutral), but those two networks, who have dealt with much larger entities like the NFL, aren’t simply going to be pushovers and provide some type of massive financial incentive that would encourage expansion.
I also know that a lot of readers believe that I overemphasize state politics, but I’ll continue to disagree on front. Texas A&M might procedurally be able to get around Texas politicians by approving the move to the SEC on Monday in a year when the legislature is not in session. (And I thought Illinois legislators were lazy! We’ll still take down anyone in blatant corruption, though.) However, as a practical matter, the A&M Board of Regents are going to have to work with these legislators in the long-term, so it’s not as if though they can just ignore them. Besides, if I’m a state legislator, do you think I want to put out more sound bites about crushing budget deficits, ignoring entitlement/pension reform and and failing to cure stagnant job growth? Fuck that shit. I’d be all over talking about college football like white on rice under any possible tangential hook. (The federal guys in Washington certainly do it regularly when they complain about the BCS.) Maybe it’s a moot point and the Aggies know that they have the requisite political support, but that’s to be determined in the maybe-too-late Texas House Higher Education Committee meeting that’s supposed to take place on Tuesday.
Last year, the entire world was convinced that the Pac-16 was a “done deal” on a Friday without any doubt in anyone’s mind, but after a weekend of rampant discussions, it ended up collapsing within a few days. In conference realignment discussions, absolutely nothing is a done deal until you see an announcement with both the inviter and the invitee at a press conference with signed paperwork. This goes double in the case of public universities located in the state of Texas. Also note that Tony Barnhart (about as plugged-in with Mike Slive as anyone) and Mr. SEC seem to intimate that it’s not necessarily full speed ahead from the SEC side with a lot more smoke coming from College Station as opposed to Birmingham.
So, while it looks there’s a good chance that I’m going to be eating some crow with a Texas A&M move to the SEC, let’s just wait to see if we get some Stevie Wonder signed/sealed/delivered action on Monday. After that, we can get back to doing what we do best here: engaging in rampant completely unsubstantiated speculation!
(Image from Mr SEC)