There's been a lot of reporting on whether Texas A&M and the SEC are moving toward an imminent deal or just going through the first steps of something that could take a while. Let's try to figure out what's going on.
The presidents will definitely meet to talk about and potentially vote on inviting Texas A&M to the league. Unless they don't.
The New York Times has reported (and appears to be standing by) a story that says the SEC will meet. (Pete Thamel also did an incredibly simplistic column that blames this mess on the SEC and A&M, without really acknowledging that this whole mess could have been avoided if Jim Delany and Larry Scott hadn't engaged in last year's money grab.) The NYT piece cites "a high-ranking SEC official with first-hand knowledge of the talks," which (as Year2 pointed out) means it's a pretty safe bet that someone who would know is telling Thamel about this.
The Sporting News -- which has displayed about as keen an understanding of internal SEC politics as a pine comb up until now -- has said that no such meeting is happening. TSN cites "a high-ranking official from the SEC," who is also presumably "a Sporting News source very close to the situation."
Somebody's source, obviously, is either lying or mistaken. Unless one of the reporters is just making something up, which seems highly unlikely no matter what you might think of their other efforts on other stories.
So which one is right?
My gut tells me that this thing is happening fast, and that the SEC presidents probably will meet. It's possible that the Times talked to someone who had heard about it and TSN talked to someone who hadn't. But there's no real way to tell, so take your pick.
Why is there so much contradictory information swirling around?
In part because it's not in anyone's interest to be completely honest about this. The SEC wants to try to make it appear that the league didn't "raid" the Big XIIish, so it's going to be hesitant to put out information that would have it voting on accepting the Aggies before A&M leaves their current league. The Big XIIish, which is now essentially a wholly-owned subsidiary of Texas, would like to do as much as possible to muck up a deal between TAMU and the SEC. Texas A&M has political constituencies that have to be assuaged (more on that in a moment). Somewhere in between all those motives is where this information is coming from.
Is there any doubt about what happens if the SEC decides to invite Texas A&M?
Not really. It's pretty clear that, barring something truly catastrophic happening to the negotiations between now and whenever a final decision is made, the Aggies will join the SEC fairly soon. But realignment is always a fluid and volatile situation.
When would A&M begin playing in the SEC?
The News-Express says the Aggies would like to join up for the 2012 season. That's a wise choice. You really don't want to stick around any longer than you have to in a conference you're going to leave. Just ask TCU. The worst case scenario probably has A&M joining in 2013.
What about the Texas Legislature?
Ah, yes, those small-government conservatives who love nothing more than to tell a university it can't move because they don't want it to. In any case, House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch has said he has assurances that the TAMU board meeting on Monday "is to begin negotiations, not complete them."
Is Branch right?
Not unless Texas A&M is guilty of gross incompetence. Why would you move a meeting up a week, to the day before the Texas Legislature has called a meeting to grill you on the possible move, unless you intended to do something meaningful? That said, intentions do change, but I doubt very seriously that the meeting was just moved up because.
So what gives?
My guess is that Branch spoke to a regent, who told Branch that the regents weren't going to vote to move to the SEC. Which is true. The agenda item says they're going to vote to give President Bowen Loftin the authority to make realignment decisions. Regents are political appointees by the governor who are subject to Senate confirmation -- in other words, they're political hacks. Putting the decision in Loftin's hands gives them plausible deniability if the whole thing blows up.
Look closely at what Branch told Brown.
Dan Branch, R-Dallas, the chairman of the House Higher Education Committee told Orangebloods.com on Saturday that it would be "highly inappropriate" for the Texas A&M Board of Regents to take any action during a Monday meeting that would finalize a move to the SEC.
Which, of course, the regents have no intention of doing. Of course, Texas A&M could be grossly incompetent in handling this whole thing. In which case, everything could still blow up and this could end up being nothing but an August diversion.
Has Dan Branch ever said anything that would contradict an attempt to capsize the Texas A&M move?
No, not at all. Well, I mean, unless you count that thing he said once about the Longhorn Network.
State Rep. Dan Branch, the Dallas Republican who heads the House Higher Education Committee, lauded UT president William Powers, Jr., for his "entrepreneurial spirit" and his willingness to "rethink and reinvent higher ed" at the committee’s first meeting of the session.
"You’ve been a really positive force, and it’s noticed," Branch said. "We ought to encourage this sort of behavior." ...
"I do not think that this Legislature ought to penalize people who are going out and maximizing their assets and getting a higher return and finding revenues that are not tax-based, because I think that’s exactly what taxpayers want us to do with our public institutions," Branch said.
Advice to politicians: If you're going to say something hypocritical, it's probably best to make sure that your own website is cleaned of the earlier comments. At least make people use LexisNexis.
What can the Texas Legislature do to Texas A&M?
It depends on how far they're willing to go. Lawmakers can do quite a bit to A&M if they want to -- yanking funding would be the most dramatic move -- but that's more complicated than a lot of people think. Remember, Texas A&M is a large university with an alumni base that numbers in the hundreds of thousands. There are also an awful lot of Aggies fans in Texas. Presumably, a fair number of these people vote in Texas elections. And even some other voters might be queasy about the Legislature making funding decisions based on college sports. Remember, the only thing politicians like more than their policy positions is getting re-elected.
My guess is that any threats directed at Texas A&M are largely empty. An Aggie is either going to be Texas governor or president of the United States when the next legislative session begins in 2013, and neither is a bad ally to have.