What if Texas A&M’s move to the SEC not only got the Aggies out from underneath the University of Texas’ thumb, but also marked a monumental in-state power shift?
Have the Aggies engineered a coup d’état and dethroned the Longhorns in the state where they have for so long reigned supreme?
Believe it or not, the writing is on the wall, and the overthrow of the Burnt Orange regime can be traced to at least three concrete development in the battle for college football supremacy of the Lone Star State.
Cold Hard Cash
According to an article by Ralph K.M. Haurwitz published this month in the Austin American-Statesman (subscription required), Texas A&M out-raised the University of Texas by over $287 million in its most recent round of donations.
The piece states that A&M raised $740.6 million in the budget year that closed Aug. 31, 2013, while Texas brought in $453 million during its last 12-month reporting period.
The following table puts the amount raised into historical perspective by comparing fiscal-year donations at both schools since 2010. The Aggies’ numbers are from Allen Reed of the Bryan-College Station Eagle, while the Longhorns’ numbers are via the Council for Aid to Education (2010-2011, 2012).
Haurwitz’s report includes Texas A&M Foundation president Ed Davis’ explanation for the Aggies’ recent success.
[Davis] attributed the surge in giving to three factors: more and more alumni reaching the age 55 or so, when they tend to get more serious about donating; a thriving energy sector in Texas that has boosted many donors’ fortunes; and a higher profile for the university generally.
What’s interesting here—in light of A&M’s giving levels relative to those of Texas—is that the two schools are only 100 miles apart and share similar regional and demographic donor bases.
This leaves the last factor—the “higher university profile”—as the difference.
The explanation for this unprecedented wave of prestige is, yes, the restored fortunes of the Texas A&M football program. A shift that began when the Aggies bolted the Big 12 after the 2011 season.
Before A&M stormed to an 11-2 finish in 2012—a mark which included the Heisman Trophy, a Cotton Bowl win over No. 12 Oklahoma and a No. 5 ranking in the final AP poll—it hadn’t been a national player in more than a decade.
The last Aggies squad to score double-digit wins came in 1998, the last to win the Cotton was in 1988 and the last to finish in the AP top five was in 1956.
The Texas A&M faithful responded heartily to the Aggies’ triumphs by opening up their checkbooks and writing numbers with lots of extra zeros.
Clearly on-field success has equaled huge donations, not just in athletics but across the board, at Texas A&M.
According to the Austin American-Statesman article, $272 million of A&M’s $740 million windfall went directly to the 12th Man Foundation, the Aggies' athletic booster club.
Cork Gaines of the Business Insider predicts that this haul could make Texas A&M the biggest revenue earner in college sports in 2013.
If you’re wondering which school made the most in athletic money in 2012—that would be Texas, which according to Gaines, pulled in a cool $163.3 million in revenue last year.
While it might be tempting to label the Aggies' rise to the national revenue leader a “one-hit wonder” fueled by stadium contributions, the numbers say otherwise.
Gaines presents a chart (summarized in the table below) that illustrates the shrinking gap between Texas and Texas A&M in athletic department revenues. This is a trend that ought to be blown out of the water by the “Johnny Football effect” in 2013 and 2014.
While financial gifts indirectly boost football programs, recruiting is a direct lifeline.
Looking back to the class of 2006, it’s clear which program was in control of the state. Texas had just finished 13-0 and won the BCS title, while Texas A&M came off a 9-4 season under Dennis Franchione.
The table below lists recruits from the state of Texas who were included in 247 Sports’ 2006 ranking of the top 191 prospects in the nation. Also listed is the program they signed with.
According to this, 24 of the top prospects in 2006 hailed from Texas. Of these, 11 (or 46 percent) committed to Texas, while two (or only eight percent) signed with Texas A&M.
Moving forward eight years to the still-forming class of 2014, it’s equally clear that a major power shift is underway.
In 2013, Texas A&M is coming off an 11-2 finish (in the SEC), while Texas struggled to a 9-4 mark.
Next is a list of the 2014 recruits from the state of Texas who are now ranked among the Top 247 Sports prospects in the nation. Firm commitments are listed in capital letters.
In this instance, 28 of the top prospects are from the state of Texas, with seven (or 25 percent) committed to the Longhorns and seven (again, 25 percent) committed to the Aggies.
If this holds—barring any gains or losses from the six undecided recruits—Texas has suffered a 21 percent drop, while A&M has enjoyed a 17 percent increase.
These gains by the Aggies can be directly contributed to the move to the SEC combined with the Longhorns’ diminishing returns in recruiting.
It’s simple: A&M enjoys a “cool” factor by being the only team from Texas to play in the media-darling SEC. It’s tough to compete with “we’ll play Alabama, LSU and Auburn” by saying, “we’ll play Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas Tech.”
On the flip side, Mack Brown has lost traction and perhaps hunger for recruits as his career reaches its final stanza.
Illustrations of this downturn aren’t difficult to find. First, there is the story of wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, the No. 2 prospect in Texas and the No. 25 player in the nation from the class of 2013.
Seals-Jones—according to a Sam Kahn Jr. article on ESPN—committed to Texas on Feb. 22, 2012 but broke the deal and ultimately signed with A&M in December.
The story behind the story is that Texas dropped out of the race after Seals-Jones was injured in September. To show A&M’s burning desire to sign the young superstar regardless of his condition, Kevin Sumlin showed up to one of his high school games in a maroon helicopter. That dramatic move sealed the deal on Seals-Jones.
Next, there is the tale of Jameis Winston, who, according to CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman, wanted to attend Texas badly enough to have his high school coach make multiple phone calls to the program.
What happens when a top prospect from Alabama calls the Longhorns? Well, according to Feldman’s piece, neither Winston nor his coach ever heard back from anyone at the University of Texas.
Is it possible that Texas A&M’s dreams are at long last coming true after years of chaffing in Texas’ shadow?
Or instead, is it but a brief excursion to Fantasy Island fueled by Johnny Football’s comet-like ride combined with a short-term cyclical downturn for the Longhorns?