Yesterday brought a new flurry of rumors from the Texas A&M subscription sites about how a move for the Aggies into the SEC could be imminent. They keep escalating these rumors so much, either something is going to happen soon or they're going to have to back down a lot. Regardless, I assume pumping this kind of news is good for boosting your number of paying members.
As I understand it, the argument for A&M moving to the SEC boils down to recruiting. Texas is and always has been the flagship school of the state, so that's a recruiting advantage right there. Add the Longhorn Network on top of that, and the advantage grows. Add the broadcasting of high school games, and the advantage grows again. The possibility of Aggie fans having to purchase the LHN to see Big 12 games is an insult, but it affects everyone in the conference equally. The rest of the school's concerns are largely about the provincial matter of recruiting in Texas.
A&M is generally third or fourth on the rung of Texas recruiting behind Texas. Oklahoma and perhaps Nebraksa. The Huskers' success in Lone Star recruiting will no doubt wane now that they're in the Big Ten though. That still leaves the matter of figuring out a way to compete with two programs with higher profiles and more winning tradition.
One possible way to do that is to join the SEC. Texas A&M would have a unique carrot to offer recruits in its state: they can play in the best conference in the country. They can line up against storied programs like Alabama, LSU, and Florida all the while staying home in Texas. What's not to like?
The problem with this plan is what Texas feared about A&M bolting to the SEC last summer. There is a closed gate on the eastern border of Texas. Arkansas and LSU have keys to the side door thanks to their states sharing a border with Texas, but by and large, SEC schools don't make much headway when it comes to recruiting there. To wit, here's a breakdown of the number of players from Texas listed on SEC rosters. These numbers came from the rosters available on each school's official web site today:
|School||No. TX Players|
The 12 SEC schools collectively have 61 Texas players, a good 14 short of a full roster. Over half of them are at Arkansas or LSU, and adding Ole Miss and Vandy (who are one state away) to them gets you to over 75% of the Texans playing in the SEC.
As long as the Big 12 survives, the eastern gate largely stays closed. There are barbarians at the gate who are able to cherry pick players here and there, but without the ability to promise regularly played games in the state of Texas, they won't have large amounts of success there.
Texas A&M joining the conference allows the Aggies to sell the SEC to recruits in Texas, but it also opens up the gate. The SEC West schools, who will end up in a division with A&M, will have few remaining barriers to going after prized Texas recruits. The cutthroat world of SEC recruiting will annex some large and fertile territory. I don't know how much East division schools will benefit directly, but they might be able to poach a few more players here and there. They might also benefit if some West schools divert some resources away from Florida and over into Texas.
A&M might find it easier to recruit against Texas and Oklahoma by selling the SEC, but it will also be battling SEC schools that will never have been stronger there. Be careful what you wish for, TAMU. If you want the SEC in Texas, that's exactly what you'll get.