The first thing you need to know is that it’s all Texas A&M’s fault. We know that, because the Texas Longhorns told us so. The Aggies are breaking up the Big 12 that the Burnt Orange tried to save; it’s silly to suggest that the ‘Horns are using the depleted league as a mere way station to independence. Why, whatever would’ve given you that idea? I mean, besides the fact that they got ESPN to give them their own network and are threatening to dump the Aggies from the schedule in favor of traditional independent Notre Dame. Those are mere coincidences. I know because Chip Brown told me so, though I haven’t yet ruled out the possibility that Brown is really just DeLoss Dodds’s hand-puppet.
Who can blame Texas for ditching Texas A&M as a year-end rival? Didn’t you know that, if an SEC team has an out-of-conference in-state rival, they’re not allowed to play one another? You know, unless you count the one-third of the existing members of the SEC who play annual games against out-of-conference in-state rivals. (To be fair, I should be clear here that I think highly enough of the Longhorns to believe they are lying when they claim they would cancel the season-ending series if the Aggies left the Big 12. Non-conference rivalries are nothing new for a Texas club that for many years competed in the Southwest Conference while yearly facing the Big Eight’s Oklahoma Sooners. I doubt seriously that the ‘Horns are anywhere near a big enough bunch of crybabies to be sincere.)
The second thing you need to know is that, even though the first thing you need to know is complete crap, it isn’t all the SEC’s fault. No, really. Mike Slive has gone to great pains to make sure this is so, though the Aggies have attempted to split the baby a bit more than Slive probably would’ve preferred.
The (evidently entirely accurate) impression we were given when the runaway freight train of conference expansion came to a screeching halt a week and a half ago was that the SEC wasn’t willing to propose until the Aggies’ divorce from the Big 12 was finalized. Instead, Texas A&M merely told its rickety present conference that it wanted to date outside the marriage. If the Big 12 indicates the circumstances under which the league would allow the Aggies to see other people, will an open relationship work?
Actually, it might. In essence, the Aggies have asked, "What would it take for us to skedaddle without getting sued?" If the Big 12 gives an answer that sets forth reasonable procedures in a clear manner, Texas A&M will know the precise set of hoops through which it must jump; if the league declines to respond or makes outrageous demands, it will be clear from a public relations standpoint, and clearer from a legal standpoint, which side is, and which is not, operating in good faith.
Yes, this is all smoke screen; the parties are engaging in the pretense of playing "Mother, May I" when we all know damned good and well what everyone ultimately is going to do when push comes to shove. However, in one carefully-crafted sentence ("We would appreciate your conferring with the other member institutions and outlining for us the process to be followed by Texas A&M should it withdraw from the Conference"; capitalizing "conference" made this a masterpiece of lawyerly draftsmanship), the Aggies used their engineering acumen to erect the canopy under which they will be free to flee, and through which the SEC will be able to accept them with the protection the league requires. Now Slive will be able to claim convincingly at a deposition that he took in a fleeing refugee carrying a Nansen passport, which sounds significantly nobler than confessing to a seduction, though the value of the accompanying television markets would be identical, either way.
The third thing you need to know is that it ain’t over yet, and likely won’t be for a while. The Aggies were always the one prize on which every existing SEC member could agree; battles very well may be brewing over the likes of Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Missouri, but opposition to Texas A&M is tepid, if it exists at all. That reality produces this one: It is entirely plausible, perhaps even probable, that the Aggies will be invited to join the SEC prior to the end of August---prior to the start of the season---and that the league will stay put at thirteen members through January. Oh, there will be a "study committee" or a "presidents’ commission" or an "exploratory council" or some such, but, because finding a suitable 14th member (or suitable 14th, 15th, and 16th members) would be doable as a relatively long-term proposition, and because no team would want the distraction during the fall, it’s altogether likely that we will know the Aggies are coming to dinner well before we we will know who will be sitting opposite them once the extra table leaves have been added.
The fourth and final thing you need to know is that, if Texas A&M plans on doing a one-year farewell tour of the Big 12 in 2011 before joining the SEC effective in 2012, I’m going to start eyeing the Bulldogs’ 2013 schedule warily. If our conference expands, I want Clemson to be one of the new teams, even though I understand and freely concede all the sensible arguments against the Tigers’ admission. I’d love to see Georgia’s dates with the Jungaleers in 2013 and 2014 be SEC East showdowns, but, if the Country Gentlemen aren’t among the invitees, and the expansion of the league slate causes the cancellation of a scheduled series to which I have been looking forward quite literally for years, I’m going to be ticked!