Statehouse reporters are odd people. We spend our entire day trying to find out what people aren't telling us, reading between the lines of statements filled with catchphrases and quizzing people who sometimes openly disdain us in the hopes that they'll say something. And in one of the honored traditions of the craft, we throw as many questions as we can think of at the governor to see if he'll say something new.
Everyone knows Texas Gov. Rick Perry is running for president. The Texas Legislature is out of session until 2013 (really), and Perry's views on anything he'll have to deal with in the immediate future are probably known to every reporter in the Capitol. So why not ask the proud Texas A&M alumnus what he knows about these rumors that the Aggies will bolt the ramshackle Big XIIish for the SEC?
Asked by The Dallas Morning News ' statehouse reporters about SEC speculation regarding A&M, Perry responded: "I'll be real honest with you. I just read about it the same time as y'all did. ... As far as I know, conversations are being had. That's frankly all I know. I just refer you to the university and the decision makers over there."
If you were looking for the match that lit the powder keg and led to last night and this morning's frenzied outburst of reporting by the dreaded "mainstream media," Perry's statement was it. But Perry (as noted) is running for president whenever he gets around to announcing it, and so his somewhat distracted statement probably wouldn't have catapulted the story as far as it went if Texas A&M hadn't responded the way it did.
"President Loftin is committed to doing what is best for Texas A&M not only now, but also into the future. We continue to have wide-ranging conversations regarding all aspects of the university, including both academics and athletics."
Again, I parse statements for a living. Ladies and gentlemen, that is not just not a denial, it is a confirmation. There is no mention of the Big XIIish or how committed A&M is to the conferences survivial, no boilerplate about rumors or speculation. Instead, there is a statement about "what is best for Texas A&M" -- as opposed to other universities? -- and "wide-raning conversations regarding ... athletics." (President Loftin is welcome for the helpful edit of what he's actually saying.)
It is not a confirmation that A&M is joining the SEC tomorrow, or by Sept. 1, or whenever your favorite rumor tells you it is. It is not a confirmation that the Aggies are leaving the Big XIIish at all. But it is a confirmation that they are talking about it.
(Could they be bluffing? Only if they hoped to get a concession from Texas, whose options at this point would be to abandon the Longhorn Network -- not happening -- or sharing the revenue from the channel -- not happening. If you've heard the rumors that Texas is willing to share the LHN money with the remaining members if they stay together after A&M bolts, my guess is that it's a DeLoss Dodds offer to save political face, because he knows it won't be accepted.)
Then other people got involved. Dan Beebe, come on down. You've just wrested the title of worst conference commissioner in America back from Karl Benson (no small accomplishment).
"I'll put it this way, I'm taking it very seriously. I've been talking to a number of people. Obviously, there are a significant number of Aggie supporters who are interested in going in that (SEC) direction."
Now, let's be clear. Dan Beebe taking something seriously is not a reason for anyone else to take it seriously. This is a man who still takes the current Big XIIish seriously.
But it's still notable that the rumors have grown to such a fever pitch that Dan Beebe had to address them. And do A&M's conferencemates believe the Aggies are sticking around? No.
One high-ranking Big 12 school official said Wednesday night, "If A&M has a chance, I think they'll go for it. Loftin sure didn't stop it (rumors)."
There's also one more notable tidbit in the Austin-American Statesman's story. The Big XIIish has a contingency plan. Really, if you don't believe these words were written by someone who wasn't joking, click on the link.
The Big 12 school official told the Statesman he had heard that the Big 12, to survive in the event of A&M's departure, would consider inviting Notre Dame and Arkansas to join, but he admitted those schools were unlikely to be interested. Other possibilities, the source said, include Houston, Louisville, Brigham Young and Air Force. He saw TCU — which joins the Big East next year — as an unlikely school to approach.
If you're asking Notre Dame and Louisville to join, why the heck wouldn't you ask TCU? While you're at it, go ahead and extend invites to Michigan, Ohio State and the Delaware Blue Hens. Which is why people like Oklahoma fans are starting to get a bit jittery about their hierarchies potential willingness to go along with whatever
Beebe DeLoss Dodds can MacGyver together to keep this thing going.
If you assume A&M leaves after just one year into this new agreement, what in the world would make you think some other deformed reincarnation of the same screwed up plan is suddenly going to work like magic?!?
We are probably witnessing the first stages of a dying conference. Even if Texas A&M sticks around for a few years, the damage of the last few weeks has done away with any slight chance the Big XIIish had of surviving the new, made-up TV contract they all agreed to last summer.
This blog's editorial position remains the same (at least, as far as I'm concerned -- anyone else who contributes can chime in if they disagree). The SEC is a great conference the way it is and should not expand just to expand. But if the Big XIIish is going to spin apart -- and it eventually will -- the SEC has to get Texas A&M. The stakes of losing a potential cultural fit that brings real money to the table and blows open the ironclad door keeping Texas recruits in-state are too great. If the Aggies don't belong in the Big XIIish, they belong in the SEC.
So, what are the odds A&M leaves for the SEC? I have no idea; you can put it at 30 percent or 70 percent for all I care, and I'm not going to argue with you. But the chance is very real. As one Big XIIish squirrel said when he found a nut, Texas A&M officials could have ended all this talk last night if they wanted to. They didn't.