Texas A&M Accepts Invite to Join Southeastern Conference

Texas A&M University accepted an invitation to join the Southeastern Conference beginning in 2012, creating uncertainty over the future of the Big 12 Conference, which has lost three schools in the last year.

University of Florida President Bernie Machen, chairman of the Southeastern Conference Presidents and Chancellors, said the realignment can’t be completed until the Big 12 and all its schools agree not to take legal action against the Aggies’ new league.

He said his conference was informed yesterday that “at least one Big 12 institution” was considering legal action. Machen didn’t identify the school.

The University of Colorado moved to the Pac-12 Conference and Nebraska moved to the Big Ten Conference last year. With Texas A&M’s departure, the Big 12 is down to nine schools, and ESPN is reporting that the University of Oklahoma is debating whether to change conferences as well.

In a letter to fans dated Aug. 31, Texas A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne said the primary reason the Aggies wanted to leave the conference was the creation of the University of Texas Longhorn Television Network -- a joint venture with Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN -- and its decision to show high school football Games, which might aid in recruiting.

“We rebuffed an attempt to televise high school games on the LHN, arguing that this type of activity was a clear violation of NCAA rules,” Byrne said.

NCAA Violation

The National Collegiate Athletic Association concurred, ruling in August that televising high school games on school or conference networks would violate NCAA rules.

“The most recent attempt by ESPN is to take highlights of high school games as part of new segments. The NCAA is taking a wait-and-see attitude on the highlights. I disagree with their stand -- as do many of my colleagues across the country. We anticipate that ESPN will continue to push the envelope with the Longhorn Network, regardless of Texas A&M’s conference affiliation.”

Byrne said ESPN was also trying to force conference members to give up the rights to games played against Texas in Austin.

“The other issue was an attempt to coerce other Big 12 schools to move their football games in Austin to the Longhorn Network,” he said. “Our understanding from Day 1 was that every conference school would have the rights to one football game a year and a handful of basketball games, which has been our longstanding agreement in the Big 12.”

Calls to University of Texas spokesman John Bianco weren’t immediately returned. ESPN said in a statement that the network has “long and valued partnerships in all of college sports, and those partnerships will continue for many years.”

Flagship Proposal

Byrne said three or four years ago Texas A&M was in talks with Texas and ESPN about creating a flagship channel. “I liked the idea,” Byrne said. It never happened.

“Conference realignment is something that has torn me up,” Byrne said in the post on the school’s Web site.

The Aggies are realigning with one of the most powerful football conferences in the U.S.

Southeastern Conference schools have won the past five national football titles and include six schools in the current Associated Press Top 25 college football ranking: No. 2 Louisiana State University, No. 3 University of Alabama, No. 12 University of South Carolina, No. 14 Arkansas, No. 16 Mississippi State and No. 18 University of Florida.

To contact the reporter on this story: Curtis Eichelberger in Washington at ceichelberge@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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