First, congrats to the Aggies. By all appearances, it seems we will have new conference-mates on Monday, and I couldn't be happier. I've outlined it before, but A&M is one of us. It's taken them a year to get up the gumption, but I think it's actually going to happen now.
What a horrible week for me to have an incredibly busy work week. I love this conference expansion rumor-mongering, but I've been stuck doing double-digit hour workdays with no real free time at night. So I've been unable to write about the most exciting week of the football offseason until now. So this might run a bit long, as it's a week's worth of thoughts poured into one column.
Finally, before we dive in, let's put my biases on the table. I went to LSU, rooted for LSU as a little kid because my parents went there, and write for an LSU blog. LSU comes first in my heart by a wide, wide margin. But I do have some affinity for Baylor, my law school and Houston, my wife's alma mater. I live in Dallas and am surrounded by Aggies and Horns. I count many of both fanbases among my friends so when I start to badmouth them in a few seconds here, it's not personal. Both schools have graduated a lot of smart, cool, interesting people that I would like to continue hanging out with after all of this.
OK, with that out of the way...Hey, Aggies, what took you so long?
I've made no secret I view the Texas Longhorns as the Destroyer of Conferences. If LSU was in a conference with Texas, I'd be looking for the escape hatch, too. This is a school that has consistently demonstrated that they do not believe in partnerships, and they will only look out for themselves. BON is full of that kind of talk -- "hey, we gotta do what's best for Texas."
Well, yes and no. You don't want to do things that actively harm your program, but if you only consider your own interests at the expense of even your conference-mates, then what's the point of a conference? The SEC works because while each school is incredibly competitive with each other and we all want to kill each other on game day, we've shown an ability to work together off the field. The SEC is stable, rich, and competitive because Alabama isn't trying to screw everyone else out of every last nickel. The Big XII failed because Texas IS trying to screw the rest of the conference, and has made no secret of it.
Let's quote from Hopkins Horn, a contributor over at BON, to get what I think is a fair and reasoned look at the Longhorn outlook:
First, let me be clear: there is absolutely no chance in hell that the Legislature would allow Texas to leave if Texas were today contemplating a unilateral departure from the Big 12 to join the Big 10 or Pac 12. A departure by Texas would leave the conference on life support, and the odds would be pretty considerable that Baylor, at the very least, and Texas Tech quite likely as well, would be staring at life in a non-BCS conference in the not-so-distant future once OU and A&M saw the writing on the wall and jumped ship to less ethical pastures after our theoretical unilateral departure.
But I realized over dinner that I have been making a pretty basic error all along.
Texas A&M isn't Texas.
The Big 12 would die if Texas left. Period. End of discussion.
But it won't die if A&M leaves. Will it be weakened a bit? Yes, of course, and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. But it will go on, either as a nine-member organization or as a 10-member organization if that's what the conference decides. (I know this is opening a whole other can of worms, but in that scenario, my personal opinion is that BYU, and BYU alone, would be a net positive to the conference among theoretically obtainable schools over staying pat at nine. But let's forget that for now....)
So my very basic mistake has been the assumption that there would be an equal massing of political resources to prevent the departure of either Texas or Texas A&M, if either school were to depart on its own, from the other three schools, and their Legislative allies, which would remain in the Big 12. I had based that assumption on the belief that Baylor and Tech would view a departure by A&M as potentially detrimentally as a departure of Texas.
But giving that some thought, that clearly isn't the case.
First, ain't that some sour grapes? This is a very eloquent way of saying, "We didn't want you anyway!"
I don't think this view is wholly out of line, but it does give us a peek into the Horn psyche. Namely, a conference exists for the benefit of Texas. The Big XII is Texas and vice versa. The sole purpose of the conference is to give Texas some bowling pins to knock over, which is why Texas hogs a disproportionate share of the revenues, on top of creating its own TV network.
Texas will argue, not entirely without merit, that they are simply doing what's best for Texas, and getting the most lucrative deal they can for themselves. Which is nice, but it's not difficult to see why that might engender some bad feelings in the rest of the conference. It's what sets up the inherent instability of the Big XII: the deal is pretty lousy for everyone but Texas, so as soon as a better deal comes along, you take it.
Also, note how Texas is now casting itself as the protector of the other conference schools. One year ago, Texas was perfectly willing to bolt without any of them, but now we have to stop and consider poor Baylor. Texas bullies these other programs and essentially takes a larger share of the revenue as some sort of bizarre protection money payout, telling them all to stay in line because without Texas, they would all shrivel and die.
Texas keeps the rest of the conference in line by fear. If you don't let us do what we want, we'll go to the Pac-10 or go independent, and then where will you be? We found out last year there isn't much demand for anybody in this conference other than Texas, Oklahoma, and A&M. So Texas throws their weight around, knowing that no other school is going to raise a peep because a small portion of something is better than a large portion of nothing. If the Big XII fails, K-State, Iowa St, and Baylor are in huge trouble. Tech, Okie St., and even Kansas would probably find a safe haven, but it's no guarantee.
For the last year, Texas fans have continually insisted that the SEC does not want A&M. There's no chance A&M leaves. A bully never thinks someone will stand up to them. So now that it appears that A&M does have an offer, the SEC does want A&M (and not Texas), and A&M wants to leave, suddenly Texas is telling A&M they shouldn't go out of some sense of loyalty to the Big XII?
Big XII was intentionally created as a new conference in 1996 to destroy all of the old history. We're not ripping apart the SWC or the Big 8, we're tearing down a flawed conference that's not even two decades old. There is no loyalty to a conference that has been set up to be the Teams That Play Texas. Why should there be?
Texas keeps pushing the outer boundaries of what they can do. A&M complains and threatens to leave, and Texas backs down, but only about 50%. We'll keep the conference together, but we keep the uneven income distribution. We'll give A&M a larger cut, but not as big as Texas'. We won't show high school football on the LHN, but we'll keep the network. It's a pattern of behavior. If A&M stays in the Big XII, they will be right back here a year from now once Texas has pushed the limits again.
That's not a partnership. That's not a conference. That's an abusive relationship. It's also a model that is completely unsustainable. Staying in the Big XII is essentially sticking around until the day Texas decides it doesn't need it anymore.
So is this about hating Texas? Partially. I think it's fair to say that. But Texas deserves a lot of the hate thrown at them by the Aggies, and it's absolutely clear that Texas does not, has not, and never will view A&M as an equal partner. Why on earth would anyone want to stay in an unstable business arrangement with someone like that? Texas keeps saying that the Aggies need to do what's best for them and not just move to spite Texas. But staying in a dying conference ruled by a bully who keeps taking a dollar, giving 50 cents back, and calling that magnanimous is not what's best for Texas A&M. Hell, it might not be what's best for BAYLOR.
Texas wants to say Texas A&M is killing the Big XII, but really, they are just putting it out of its misery. Or, if Texas keeps it going, exposing it for the sham conference it really is.
Since this piece has already run long, we'll move on to Part Two later this weekend.