Sources: Texas, Texas A&M may head in different directions
01:03 AM CDT on Friday, June 11, 2010
By CHUCK CARLTON / The Dallas Morning News firstname.lastname@example.org
/ The Dallas Morning News
Texas and Texas A&M have disagreed more than a few times during their historic rivalry.
The latest difference of opinion could define a changing college landscape for decades. Texas and three other schools in the Big 12 Conference's South Division are looking west to the Pacific-10 Conference as the best hope for their future with the expected demise of their home for the last 14 years.
But Texas A&M would like to at least survey the options in a different part of the country – in the Southeastern Conference – sources familiar with the process said.
A meeting between officials from the two schools Thursday failed to produce a consensus on the direction the Longhorns and Aggies should take, multiple sources said, should the Big 12 collapse as many predict. The time for a decision may approach quickly given the Pac-10's aggressiveness.
Colorado became the first domino to officially tumble Thursday morning, jumping from the Big 12 to the Pac-10 effective with the 2012 football season. Big 12 North Division flagship member Nebraska is expected to accept a Big Ten invitation as early as today, potentially setting off a chain reaction.
And Texas politicians are also making their opinions known about the pending seismic shift, with U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, calling for hearings on the Big 12 situation and its impact on Texas.
Gov. Rick Perry, an A&M alumnus, said Thursday night he has not weighed in on A&M's decision.
"I have studiously stayed away from it," Perry said. "It is a decision that the board of regents should make. Frankly, it doesn't need to have a political aspect to it. It needs to be a thoughtful look at all the consequences, and I think that's what we're doing."
With Nebraska's departure, the Pac-10 would quickly focus on Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the hopes of forming a 16-team, TV network-friendly megaconference.
But A&M isn't yet sold on the package. The Aggies have historic rivals in the SEC, including Arkansas and LSU. They would also give the SEC, which includes football powers Florida and defending national champion Alabama, a key entry point into the Texas market.
After Thursday's meeting, which was attended by A&M President R. Bowen Loftin and athletic director Bill Byrne, the school released a statement: "No decisions were made or agreements reached as a result of these discussions."
The school also reported that no meetings of the board of regents have been scheduled.
One regent, A&M football legend Gene Stallings, told the Austin American-Statesman that the Longhorns and Aggies could join separate conferences.
"I would think there would be a possibility, but to say they'd definitely do that ...?" said Stallings, a former A&M coach who later won a national title at Alabama. "I don't know who all will be involved. But I'd be stupid not to say that. Whether it's much of a possibility, I don't know. I'm not going to venture out on that until I know what all the options are."
Former A&M football coach R.C. Slocum, reached by phone, said he was pleased that Loftin "was very much involved and engaged" just like Texas President William Powers.
"It's such a big decision that I'm glad it will be at the highest level," Slocum said.
Sources indicated that A&M will probably still join Texas and the others in the Pac-10.
Texas has long been on record as favoring the Big 12 as the school's preferred conference. But if Nebraska leaves, Texas would view the Pac-10 as the best option, sources said.
Others are following Texas' lead.
While still expressing hope for a pared-down Big 12 with 10 teams, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione told the Tulsa World that he is committed to remaining with Texas.
"I think it would be a horrendous decision for OU and Texas to break up," Castiglione said. "We're going to stick together if it's at all possible."
Colorado's departure to the Pac-10 may have effectively shut the door on Baylor's hopes to be part of any exit strategy with its fellow Texas schools.
"We're working feverishly with the conference to keep the Big 12 viable and moving forward," said Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw, whose school also was represented at the meeting.
After Colorado's announcement, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe pledged in a statement to "continue to work through the process that was agreed upon last week by our board of directors to address membership issues, and [we] are working tirelessly towards the long-term viability of the Big 12."
On a teleconference following Colorado's announcement, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott declined to specifically address other Big 12 possibilities.
"No invitations have been issued," he said. "There are still several different scenarios that we may or may not pursue."
A source said that Utah and perhaps Kansas might be considered as replacements for A&M in the 16-team Pac-10 model.
"I'm authorized to pursue several different scenarios," Scott said. "What direction it goes in from this point, I can't say because I don't know."
Meanwhile, Edwards urged Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus to call immediate hearings on the possible Big 12 breakup.
"It is important that all the citizens of Texas have a right to have their voices heard on the future of the Big 12 before, not after, all the decisions have been made," Edwards said in a prepared statement.