We've been loathe to discuss conference expansion during football season here at RBR, but having said that Mike Slive went on the record today with a statement regarding Texas A&M, and this one expects to dominate the headlines the rest of the day, so we'll break from routine blog procedure and take a crack at this one. Slive said the following today, in relevant part, per the SEC website:
"In the 78 year history of the SEC, the conference had accepted the membership applications of only two institutions—Arkansas and South Carolina. Texas A&M is now the third. We remain optimistic that Texas A&M will be a member of the SEC and have started to look at schedules for 2012-13 involving 13 teams.
"As I said over the past year or so, the SEC has had no particular interest in expansion. We were, and are, happy with 12 teams. If Texas A&M’s President, Dr. Bowen Loftin had not called me in late July, we had no plans to explore adding an institution.
"However, when President Loftin called we became interested. Texas A&M is an outstanding academic institution with an exceptional athletic program, passionate fans and wonderful traditions. While the SEC wasn't thinking about expansion, it was impossible not to be interested in Texas A&M. As you can see from the unanimous vote of our twelve Presidents/Chancellors, we would very much like to have Texas A&M as a member of our conference.
"When Texas A&M joins our conference, we don't have immediate plans for a 14th member. We aren’t thinking in terms of numbers. We think about the strength of the SEC and the attractiveness of Texas A&M as an institution."
A short statement in absolute terms, comprising only four paragraphs and roughly 200 words, but one nevertheless loaded with important information. Read closely. A&M was accepted by a unanimous vote of the twelve existing members. A&M initiated contact with the SEC, not the other way around. 2012 looks to be the target date for implementation. The SEC may go forward with thirteen members, at least in the short-term, and simply deal with the divisional imbalance. No immediate plans for a fourteenth member.
Also pay close attention to the opening of the final paragraph, "When Texas A&M joins our conference...". When, not if. Those words are, surely, no simple coincidence. It's a direct way of shoving the litigation threats from Baylor, et al to the side and declaring that the SEC is moving forward with the Aggies and to hell with flinching in the face of potential lawsuits. Again, important words there: When, not if.
Some national pundits are already speculating this will be the move that sets everything else in motion, and it's hard to call that much of an exaggeration at this point. Discussions regarding Oklahoma and the Pac-12 continue to escalate, and the Oklahoma president refused to answer any such questions today. The OU Regents are expected to meet one week from today, and their Pac-12 move may become official then. Meanwhile, Missouri looks to be trying to either find their way into the SEC or at least negotiate a soft landing somewhere else if the Big X implodes.
Obviously still a long way to go here before we see exactly how this shakes out, but regardless of that there seems to be no indication that anyone is really backing down despite the litigation threats. The specifics of where certain schools land remains unknown, but with his comments today Mike Slive openly defied any notions that the Baylor threats would prove to be a bucket of ice water in the face of conference expansion. In the wake of Slive's comments, A&M to the SEC looks more inevitable than ever.