Forget supposed insiders like Chip Brown and countless anonymous sources in various newspaper reports, Texas A&M's departure from the Big XII is effectively official at this point, and that comes directly from A&M. Per the official Texas A&M University website:
Texas A&M University today officially notified the Big 12 Conference that the institution will submit an application to join another athletic conference. Should this application be accepted, Texas A&M will end its membership in the Big 12 Conference effective June 30, 2012.
"After much thought and consideration, and pursuant to the action of the (Texas A&M University System) Board of Regents authorizing me to take action related to Texas A&M University's athletic conference alignment, I have determined it is in the best interest of Texas A&M to make application to join another athletic conference," President R. Bowen Loftin wrote to Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe in the letter dated August 31, 2011.
"We appreciate the Big 12's willingness to engage in a dialogue to end our relationship through a mutually agreeable settlement," Loftin added. "We, too, desire that this process be as amicable and prompt as possible and result in a resolution of all outstanding issues, including mutual waivers by Texas A&M and the conference on behalf of all the remaining members."
Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin lays it out as clearly as possible. A&M intends to leave the Big XII, they have notified the Big XII of their intention, they will submit an application to join another conference, and if that application is accepted they will end their affiliation with the Big XII next summer.
The rest is merely common sense. Aggie is not leaving the Big XII to test the Conference USA waters, or flirt with the Pac-12 or the Big Ten. They are heading directly to the SEC, and while Loftin did include something of an out in case the application is denied by their prospective new conference (read SEC), realistically there is no way whatsoever that A&M would have gone anywhere near this far without the direct assurances from the SEC that their application will be approved. Accordingly, this looks to be a mere formality at this point. A&M will submit their application to the SEC, it will be approved in due time, and the Aggies will officially join the SEC on a date mutually agreeable to all parties.
The 2012 start date could still be negotiable, and it's possible that the SEC could seek to delay that by another year to help finalize expansion with a fourteenth team, but that is a collateral issue. The same goes for Big XII exit fees and all the like. In both cases, these are minor issues that should be resolved with no major difficulty. Again, if substantial hold-ups regarding these issues were in any way expected, A&M wouldn't have gone this far.
And with A&M poised to become the thirteenth SEC member, the real focus for SEC followers is just how the rest of the expansion plays out. A fourteenth team is almost a certainty to maintain raw divisional balance, and that will be required unless there is some shocking, unforeseen attrition from within the current member ranks (such as Arkansas to the Big XII, or Kentucky to the Big East). By all accounts a fourteenth team will be added, that team could conceivably come from anywhere east of New Mexico and south of Pennsylvania, a ninth regular season conference game will be added, and depending on the location and strength of the fourteenth school it's possible (perhaps even probable) that existing conference members could be forced to change divisions.
In other words, while Texas A&M-to-the-SEC looks be effectively finalized, most questions stemming from conference expansion still remain to be answered. Chime in here with all of your thoughts and comments.