The SEC voted Sunday afternoon not to expand the conference, seemingly ending the brief flirtation between Texas A&M and the SEC. Or does it?
The situation is far more complicated.
Nobody outside of the SEC presidents really knows why Texas A&M was not given an invitation this weekend or if the Aggies are still being considered.
First, the SEC has made it clear that they do not want to be the ones to destroy the current conference structure.
The SEC was willing to pursue Texas A&M last year when it looked like the Big XII was going to die. Now that the league is relatively solid again, the SEC is apprehensive about doing anything to undermine that newly found stability.
However, once Texas A&M has formally voted to leave the Big 12, the situation changes.
The biggest obstacle is the television contract the Big XII signed last year. Texas A&M and the SEC both could be sued if the Aggies leave without an exit agreement.
So far, Texas A&M has been talking to the SEC but not the members of its own conference. They need to sit down and have some difficult conversations with the other conference members and commissioner Dan Beebe to negotiate an exit.
Expect Texas A&M to pay a hefty fee for the privilege of leaving the Big 12. Now that the other Big 12 members know the Aggies need a graceful exit to secure an invitation from the SEC, they will extract as much money as possible.
Look for Texas A&M to surrender its entire share of conference revenue next year, with the majority of it going to Texas and Oklahoma. The Aggies will have to agree if they want the conference to approve its exit agreement.
Once Texas A&M has an exit agreement in place, the SEC will be free to negotiate with the Aggies without fear of being sued.
Another issue for the SEC is competitive balance. There is no benefit to inviting Texas A&M unless they add a 14th team.
The SEC needs time to consider and evaluate other potential options. Conference realignment is very serious and never rushed. The SEC does not want to feel pressured into making the decision with so little discussion.
They need a school to fit in the Eastern Division, so there is no need to realign the current divisions.
However, the internal politics of the SEC complicates things. Many teams are trying to prevent their instate rivals from getting an invitation. That would make it difficult to add Florida State, Miami or Georgia Tech.
Since the SEC does not want to be seen breaking up other conferences, they are not going to approach schools already in a BCS conference. They were willing to start discussions with Texas A&M, because the Aggies approached them.
Now that everybody in College Football knows the SEC is seriously considering expansion, other schools will approach them quietly.
The SEC will not be comfortable expanding until it has a tentative agreement with a 14th team. This will not happen until after the season ends.
The final issue affecting SEC expansion are internal Texas politics. If Texas A&M leaves the Big 12, other state schools could suffer.
The Texas legislature called a special hearing Tuesday to discuss the situation. Texas A&M Regents scheduled a meeting Monday afternoon to preempt the legislature (or not, depending on the story you believe).
The SEC did not want to give Texas A&M an invitation before the legislature can meet. The Aggies need to convince the legislature that the Big XII would survive their departure.
This is going to take some time.
There is no incentive for the SEC to act quickly, so an offer will not come this year. If Texas A&M wants to join the SEC now, then the Aggies will still want to join after this season.
The SEC can really do its homework and find a team that provides competitive balance and invite both teams at the same time.
The SEC ended its statement Sunday by saying, "We recognize, however, that future conditions may make it advantageous to expand the number of institutions in the league."
Texas A&M is still likely get an invitation to the SEC. Just don't think it will happen this season.
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