This week marked the official expansion of the Southeastern Conference with the addition of another storied collegiate program, Texas A&M. After months of rumors and threats of lawsuits by former Big 12 members, A&M has been cleared to become the 13th program in one of college sports most challenging conferences. This is the first time the SEC has added a team to its conference since Arkansas and South Carolina joined in 1991.
Since the big announcement, most at A&M have celebrated their newfound loyalty to the conference that has welcomed them so warmly. Former Aggie coaches, such as Gene Stallings and R.C. Slocum have publicly expressed their enthusiasm for the move. And why shouldn’t they? The SEC has produced the last five BCS champions, having some of the most successful and lucrative football programs in the country. Plus, the SEC is steeped in tradition and ritual, where football is life and each school proudly upholds it’s own football traditions. Much the same is true of Texas A&M, making this defection a Utopian scenario for the 12th man in Aggie land. But, before A&M celebrates too loudly, let’s take a look at what the Aggie faithful have in store.
The Price of Entry
If you want to win, you have to invest and the SEC knows this to be true. Programs like Alabama, Auburn, Florida and LSU didn’t take home the BCS trophy without paying for it, a trend that won’t change anytime in the near future. The 2009-2010 BCS Champion Crimson Tide spent over one third of its $85 million athletic budget on football. That same year, Auburn dropped a whopping $28 million. The next year, the BCS trophy was held high with the cries of “War Eagle” in the background.
If Texas A&M were in the conference today, their current investment in football would be comparable to that of Kentucky and Vanderbilt. That doesn’t put them shoulder to shoulder with the SEC elite, so you can imagine this changing over time.
Reap the Rewards
On the positive side, Texas A&M will now become a recipient of their share of the profitable cash flow that the SEC produces. Every May, the 12 teams split up the bounty they bring in through lucrative TV deals, bowl payouts and licensing rights. This year delivered a record setting $220 million for the conference. Not a bad idea marrying into that family.
Strength of Schedule
An SEC-heavy conference schedule provides a team with a stronger opportunity to get to the national championship game. Since the formation of the BCS in 1998, seven of the thirteen games have featured an SEC team. Even more impressive, every one of those teams won the title, making the SEC undefeated in the biggest game of the season.
Obviously, playing a schedule that includes LSU, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Arkansas will take a toll on any team. At the end of this season, the winner of the SEC is one of the most battered, bruised and beat up teams left standing in college football. But, the payoff is great. If Texas A&M can go undefeated within it’s first few years in the SEC, it will most certainly head to the title game, and looking back at history, take home the title.
Location, Location, Location
With all the talk this season on potential moves by OU to the PAC-12 or Boise State to the ACC, the biggest factor in many of these moves includes the cost of membership. Flying student athletes all over the country can take a hefty toll on both the student and the pocket book. If your new conference is hundreds of miles away, sending student athletes who play baseball, volleyball, soccer, and basketball across the country once or twice a week could be deemed fiscally irresponsible. Not to mention the academic toll it would take on students missing so much classroom work.
With the SEC, the Aggies look forward to similar travel schedules they have enjoyed within the Big 12. Baton Rouge is only a four-hour bus ride. Oxford is only seven. This offers A&M the opportunity to keep a similar cost structure to what they have been used to on road games, but potential benefits of a higher conference payout.
A Family Tradition
The largest drawback to this conference defection may actually be related to the team that got the ball rolling on this change in the first place. By launching a multi-million dollar partnership with ESPN to create The Longhorn Network, A&M felt an unfair recruiting advantage was created, giving UT a huge upper hand in the state of Texas. A jump to the SEC makes Texas A&M the only Texas school in the Southeastern Conference. This is mutually beneficial to the Aggies and the SEC in extending the reach for A&M to recruit deeper south, while giving the SEC a foothold in the state of Texas.
Officials, athletes and fans alike have expressed concern around losing the traditional Thanksgiving showdown against its in-state rival, the Texas Longhorns. This rivalry dates back to 1894, making it one of the oldest in college football. The potential cancellation of this match-up to satisfy new conference obligations would be a loss to college football itself. The hope will be to continue non-conference play, but keep the tradition alive for Texas football fans everywhere.
It’s obvious the pros out way the cons in this conference change for Texas A&M. But, the road will not be easy. The teams of both the SEC east and west will make you earn your place in the conference. But A&M will be better for it in the end. And so with the SEC.
Interested in how the Aggies might stack up against the SEC today? Texas A&M plays Arkansas this Saturday at 12:00PM (ET) on ESPN.