For over 80 years, Texas A&M students have been singing “Goodbye to Texas university, So long to the orange and the white” during the Aggie War Hymn. On Sunday, they do just that when they officially become members of the SEC. The move has been criticized more than any other conference change over the last two years. A&M claims the move was made for increased visibility and stability, but there are clearly other reasons the Aggies are willing to gamble on a move to college football’s toughest conference.
The media reported that Texas A&M has an “inferiority complex” to the University of Texas, and that it was the main catalyst for the conference switch (coincidentally most of this was by the company that recently invested $300 million on the Longhorn’s success). Many in the media also claimed that A&M was tired of getting beat and they were running away from their in-state rivals, citing the series record which Texas leads 76-37 (the series is split 15-15 over the last 30 years). It is true that A&M hasn’t had as much success nationally as their counterparts in Austin recently, but it can hardly be called “running away from the competition” when they are joining the conference that has won the last 6 national titles, 4 of those coming from the West division that the Aggies will be a part of.
The Aggies’ biggest risk is the belief the SEC will help them compete with the Longhorns and Sooners for the top Texas talent. They believe recruits will want to stay in Texas and compete in the best conference in the country. Signing day is well over 7 months away, but progress is being felt already; Rivals.com currently has A&M as the #3 ranked 2013 class in the nation behind Michigan and Alabama.
The Aggies are far too crazy for the Big 12, they are what could be called “SEC crazy.” Like most SEC fan bases, Aggies take their football seriously. They take pride in carrying on the traditions that make the school unique. When an Aggie begins a speech, they will open with a “Howdy” and end with a “Gig Em.” The Aggie War Hymn and it’s Sawing Varsity’s Horns Off is a staple of every Aggie wedding. When anything “good-bull” (pro-Aggie) happens, a “Whoop” is loudly yelled in approval (even in church). Want to get an Aggie on an angry rant? Ask about the infamous bevel T. Few fan-bases can compare to the craziness, passion, and loyalty that Aggies show, and most of the ones who can are in the SEC.
Of the countless sport traditions that the Texas Aggies have, they take the most pride in is being the 12th Man and Kyle Field. Even though it was the second biggest in the Big 12, not many fans would disagree that it was by far the loudest in the conference. Aggies want to show off Kyle Field to fans that travel. When Baylor visited Kyle Field in 2011 in the midst of their best season ever, they sold 830 of their 3850 ticket allotment. In contrast, 20,000 LSU fans have already requested tickets from their allotment to the 2012 game. Kyle Field deserves to be in a conference with the likes of Bryant-Denny, The Swamp, and Tigers Stadium; not Kansas Memorial Stadium and Floyd Casey Stadium that are only manage 50,000 fans if the visiting team brings half of them.
And then there’s the money, lots and lots of money. Teams in the Big 12 are set to make $20 million a year when their new TV contracts kick in, just over the $19.5 million SEC schools made following the 2010-2011 school year. The SEC schools’ payouts are expected to increase after the conference renegotiates the rights with ESPN and CBS. The real money will come when the long rumored SEC network is launched, which some believe could be worth as much as $1 billion a year for the conference.
Texas A&M President R Bowen Loftin frequently refers to the move to the SEC as a “100 year” decision. The decision was made carefully after considering all the possible outcomes. In the end, the pros outweighed the cons, and the chance at greatness outweighed the risk of obscurity. An opportunity that was too good to pass up.