As I was driving home, I was listening to the local ESPN station and the topic of conference expansion arose (what else?).
The subject of the conversation was if the Texas A&M Aggies would entertain the idea of splitting up with Texas and the other five Big 12 schools who are likely headed out west, and join the SEC should an invitation be offered.
The conversation continued to possible ramifications for rival Texas and the new Pac-16 super conference should the Aggies head east.
Living in the Houston area allows me to hear multiple sides of this story, as Houston is a melting pot of thousands of Texas and Texas A&M alums.
A rather irritable Aggie called in about 25 minutes into the show, and he proceeded to blast the show's host for implying A&M's fate was in any way tied to Texas'.
He continued on to express his belief that it would be in A&M's best interest to take up an SEC offer should it come, citing the fact that the Aggies would no longer live in the shadow of their rivals, or as the caller put it, their "ugly cousins".
The caller seemed to me more caught up in radical school pride, than in the facts.
Let's debunk the two fallacies this particular caller proposed:
Texas Needs Texas A&M
Big 12- $139 million
University of Texas- $138.5 million
What do these figures mean?
During the 2008-2009 school year, Texas brought in almost as much revenue as the entire Big 12 conference in 2009-2010.
In short, Texas needs no one, as is evident by the sudden collapse of the Big 12. The Longhorns control their destiny, and no one can influence that now.
In the case of A&M, I believe it is important to preserve the rivalry for the sake of the massive fan bases. Texas-Texas A&M means so much to so many, and to cut ties would be damaging indeed.
But to who?
The Longhorns command the largest revenue intake in the nation and a very large television audience in huge markets like Houston and Dallas/Ft. Worth.
Moreover, the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry is the one that is most relevant on the national stage. The game with the Aggies is no more than Thanksgiving day entertainment at the moment.
While Texas A&M does possess a rather large viewing audience in the Houston market and a very supportive alumni program, the Aggies are hardly vital to the Pac-16, at least with Texas in the equation.
A&M provides a valuable partner to UT in improving the financial situation in the Pac-10, but the difference is Texas can press on without their Aggie counterparts if needed.
Texas A&M bases the entire football season around one game on the schedule. One. If you take the heart and soul away from the A&M program, where do they go from there? What motivation do recruits have to go play there if they can't face the flagship school in the state?
Like I said, Austin answers to no one.
The Aggies Will Improve in the SEC
Did you actually suggest the Aggies will return to prominence by entering the most challenging conference in the United States?
Let's compare the scenarios:
In the SEC, A&M faces Tennessee, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Kentucky, Miss. State, and Vanderbilt.
In the Pac-16, A&M faces Washington State, Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, and Colorado.
Notice how I only included the second tier squads in each conference. The lower half of the SEC looks dramatically stronger than the Pac-16.
If I were Mike Sherman (assuming he's still in College Station in 2012), I'd rather have games against Arizona and Washington State than Tennessee and Arkansas after coming off damaging losses to some of the elite squads in the conference, and yes, the Aggies will continue to suffer at the hands of the big boys no matter which direction they go.
The caller believes that if the Aggies split at the hip with Texas and enter the SEC, it will open up vast recruiting pools in both Texas and the deep south.
Apparently he's under the impression that the University of Texas is actually leaving the state of Texas.
Over the last 20 years, A&M has been outclassed by their arch-rivals on the recruiting scene in the state of Texas. What's more disturbing is that Oklahoma, USC, and Florida have raided the state of all the top talent as well, leaving A&M in the dust.
Texas A&M isn't the king of recruiting in their own state, so how on earth would they "tap into the vast recruiting potential" of the south? Moreover, if Florida, Alabama, and LSU are receiving the top kids in Texas plus the top talent in their respective states, there virtually no room for the Aggies on a playing field with the big boys of the SEC.
Mr. Caller did make an interesting point that recruits would be more interested in playing in the SEC than the Pac-10, thus giving A&M a larger portion of top talent in Texas.
This makes sense, for the time being.
However, the forthcoming Pac-16 will prove to be a match for the SEC in the coming years, with Texas, Oklahoma, and even USC competing for national titles on a yearly basis.
In addition, Texas will always be Texas, and as long as the Longhorns continue to ride the huge wave of success on the football field, the top recruits in the nation will continue to swarm to Austin in record numbers.
Case and Point
It would be in A&M's best interest to join together with Texas and company and head west.
A&M could contribute its television audience and alumni program to an already very wealthy and powerful conference.
The Aggies could also continue their recent progress on the football field by heading to the Pac-10. There are just enough cupcakes for A&M to gain confidence with, and just enough power houses for them to be tested.
If Texas A&M values its athletic program and tradition, it will team up with the real kingpin (Texas) and create a super conference that is unmatched in wealth and scope anywhere in the country.
If not, by all means they should head south.