SEC Expansion: Would A&M Be Trading Little Brother Tag for Also-Ran Status?

Tobi WritesAnalyst IAugust 15, 2011

Things to come?
Things to come?Chris Graythen/Getty Images

With the Aggies reportedly on the verge of a decision to go to the SEC in 21 days, the time is right, if not past, to pose the question to Aggie fans...

Is it likely that you will win and win big in the Southeastern Conference?

That's my question for sensible Aggie boosters to really consider.  I am going to touch on a lot of things, but that is the core question Aggies need to ask themselves.  It is the bottom line.  Be honest with your evaluation. If Aggie fans can't answer yes, moving to the SEC is a really bad idea.

Winning big in football drives the kinds of booster donations that has made the University of Texas's athletic budget so huge.  Mediocrity kills those donations.

The TV money is irrelevant. Any direction the Aggies chose will pay big money in three to four years. When A&M joins a conference, that conference will renegotiate their deal under today's market rate.

I think we can agree it would be foolish to risk the kind of heat on A&M politically the school may be inviting to join a conference where A&M may likely finish fifth in their division most years.

No, for this kind of heat, you sure better have a semi-regular path to top 10 status nationally.

I think Aggie fans have been sold a bill of goods by former A&M and Alabama coach Gene Stallings and the pro-SEC faction and I hope to wake up the clear thinking part of Aggie Nation. 

A&M is a great school. Aggies are, contrary to all the jokes, very smart people, but there is no ignoring the chip on the shoulder Aggie fans have.  Unaffiliated fans throughout the state see A&M as the University of Texas's little brother, always a step behind and prone to an embarrassing stumble. (Look at recent headlines from the last five or 10 years for example.  UT wins a national title and their athletic program pulls in more money than any other in the nation; A&M with similar resources and a much more fanatic alumni base manages to run the athletic program $20 million into debt. I am not here to beat up Aggies, but you know what I mean.)

Worst still UT is seen as a dominant academic and research power nationally, while A&M's influence seems much more limited to Texas despite dominance in those areas that frankly rivals UT's.

This sticks in your craw. Aggies have huge power and influence in the state and are the most passionate fans in Texas. That combination of factors is not a good mix for making dispassionate, logical business decisions.

Joining the SEC would be an emotional decision for A&M. The SEC is not a gravy train for the Aggies.  The Aggie fan base is a host for the SEC to leech.  Pure and simple.

You have to be able to recruit to win

This is the most fundamental truth of college football. A TV announcer once said something to the effect that the team with the most talent wins 80 percent of the time in college football. I think there is a lot of truth to that.

There is also a lot of truth to the idea that only about 10 teams each year have the talent and depth vs. their conference competition to have a realistic shot at a national title.

This year A&M enters the season with what most think is the second best combination of talent and experience in the Big 12 conference.  The depth of a true contender may not be there, but if the Aggies can beat OU and avoid falling asleep against rivals Tech and UT, there is a reasonable shot that the Aggies could go undefeated in the Big 12 and earn a shot at a national title game.

Lets get serious here Aggie Fans. This team would be no better than a three loss team in the SEC.  Being in the Big 12 gives A&M a small chance to play for football national titles.  Would you have even that in the SEC? (Bear with me through the SEC analysis. There is another option for A&M that I will cover after that.)

A&M isn't suddenly going to out-recruit Florida or Alabama by joining the SEC.  That is what it will take to win a national title.

The Aggie media who are saying that suddenly the deep south will line up to send say, the star athlete children of eight generations of Crimson Tide fans to johnny come lately A&M....not even "a real SEC school"... are either actively misleading Aggie fans to get them to support this fool's errand or they are frankly delusional.

Tradition is huge in the SEC footprint.

No, what will happen is that A&M will open up Texas recruiting in general and Houston recruiting in particular even further to the SEC. We are talking about A&M's own recruiting back yard.

In the deep south, every top recruit's family has an SEC school they push for them to attend.  In Texas, our players go where the football is the best.

As some Aggie editorialists gleefully point out, A&M to the SEC will cripple UT's recruiting dragging UT back to the pack. SEC powers may be able to offer Texas Blue Chip recruits an in conference SEC game in Texas every two years.  UT will lose some top recruits and it will probably drag them down from an annual national title contender to merely a really good bowl team.

But A&M will also lose top Texas recruits.  And lets be real here. A&M has some nice starting talent on this team, but it isn't true title contention level depth. These aren't the RC Slocum years.

It may drop UT down to a nine to 10 win team every year, but A&M isn't likely to sniff that level because A&M will be playing in a division with Louisiana State University, Arkansas, Alabama, and Auburn who will all maintain their current recruiting while adding a couple top Texas talents.  They will be better!

The Aggies may hurt UT and deprive them of the football national titles that drive those crazy booster donations, but it is very unlikely that A&M will gain ground on UT or that A&M will be better then they are today in the SEC.

An honest and impartial look at A&M recruiting

A&M is a powerful brand in Texas, but playing at A&M is a little bit of a tough sell.  It shouldn't be.  A&M is one of the great academic schools in the region.  A free education there should be a heck of an incentive. Additionally on the field A&M has the resources to compete at the highest level in the conference in all sports.

But there is a rub. It's super conservative, it's in a small country town, and there is the military influence that a lot of recruits don't get or it makes them feel uncomfortable.

Those recruiting "limitations" aren't going anywhere.  A&M is still going to have to target athletes with the same kind of mindsets, only in the SEC, anyone A&M targets in the deep south is going to want to go to their local SEC school first, then a "traditional SEC power",  and then move on to considering nearby non-SEC power schools like Miami, Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech.

I think A&M would rank in their fourth tier of candidates with SEC afterthought schools like Mississippi.

There is not going to be this immediate flood of recruits from the deep south.  They have to get to know A&M.  Give it a generation.

And then there is the reality of geography.  A&M profits immensely in recruiting due to its proximity to Houston.  The SEC would profit immensely from A&M's proximity to Houston.  The SEC would double and triple their recruiting efforts in the talent rich Houston and East Texas region based on the idea that they can now sell those kids on playing at a "real SEC power" but still being close enough where family can see a game or two a year.

This move would hurt A&Ms ability to land the top area recruit who isn't sold on A&M's atmosphere, but is capable of looking beyond that.  That Houston kid is now a member of the Crimson Tide.

Because of the tradition, adding A&M doesn't hurt SEC recruiting hardly at all while SEC powers like Alabama and LSU will do a lot better in Texas. Arkansas is likely to be able to rebuild their Dallas/Fort Worth recruiting pipeline with A&M in.  Eastern powers Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida may steal a few more players from Houston.

And even though the death penalty has been declawed and A&M boosters' passion, I cannot see a respectable school like A&M out-paying Auburn for players.

Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Auburn are all likely to have more talent most years.  That means a likely fifth place finish most years and virtually no shot at a national title ever.

And that is the glaring problem with this move. The SEC is in general a little more talented than the Big 12. If this happens, the SEC schools get a little better and A&M gets a little worse.

Aggie leadership is being myopic on something they covet.  There are much better options out there for A&M.

Case Studies: Arkansas and South Carolina in the SEC

It took Arkansas 15 years to win 10 games as an SEC member. 

Think about that.

Arkansas is not an incompetently run school.  They are devoted to football.

This was not as SEC fans will tell you because the SEC is so darned good.  No, it is because Arkansas effectively traded access to high end Texas supplemental recruits as a member of the SWC for long term conference stability as a member of the SEC.

Arkansas went 48-13 in Ken Hatfeild's last five seasons in the SWC, finishing 10-2 three times, twice falling from 10-1 after losing their end of year bowls.

Arkansas is just under a seven win team each year in their 19 years in the SEC.  Their best season in the SEC was last year when they went 10-3.  They haven't sniffed the national title conversation since they joined.

Mediocrity long term does not get the booster money rolling.

I would contend Arkansas really hasn't won the recruiting trade off and A&M is not likely to either.

Look at South Carolina.

They had much the same problem as A&M does.  Clemson won a national title in 1981 and was drawing much, much larger crowds at the time.  South Carolina had to emerge from their shadow.

They have been trying to build a national contender since they joined the SEC.  They have had Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier—college football elite coaches—over the last decade and they best they have finished is 9-3 in their time in the SEC.

It is not for lack of trying or either school not pumping money into their football program.

There is a fair bit of evidence that suggests being an outlier in the SEC is not a strong position.  Frankly it also looks like it may take 15 years for a school to "transition" into a strong SEC program and even then there might be a ceiling on what a school can achieve.

Do Aggie fans really want to prop up the Tennessees, Auburns, Alabamas, Floridas, and Georgias of the world just to say A&M isn't propping up UT?

Do Aggie fans really want to be risk a worst case scenario of being the SEC's Baylor for the next 15 years?

Can you even leave the Big 12 for the SEC?

I am treating this threat of leaving as a real one as I think Aggie fans are truly sick of the UT headache and are bringing a lot of pressure on their leadership to go at any cost, but honestly it may be strictly a leveraging ploy.  The only leverage A&M appears to have as a member of the Big 12 to curb UT's lust at this point is threatening to leave (or trying to leave).

The idea that was around last year was that UT or A&M could effectively check each other, but had agreed not to as long as each school was going to a perceived equal home.

I can't imagine UT not fighting the political battle to keep you if it means you get into the SEC and then can help bind UT alone to Tech (non-starter to the Big 10) or  Baylor (non-starter to the Big 10 or Pac-12).

Maybe this is just posturing, but given the fact that Aggies are passionate, powerful, and can be bullheaded, I think fans should treat this as a very real desire.

Aggies may be willing to accept an SEC invite and then see if the legislature bear the losing public relations position of trying to stop A&M even though the Aggies will have membership in a higher paying conference in hand.

I would argue this move to the SEC is very shortsighted.

A&M would extract far more value from an association with the PAC-12 than the SEC...a subject I will address in detail in tommorrow's Bleacher Report Editorial.  I would suggest Aggie leadership may need to be reminded today by their fans to look under every stone for the best deal before just doing what SEC advocate Gene Stallings recommends.  It would not hurt to hear from the Pac-12 before today and tomorrow's meetings.

A&M, Texas Tech, OU, and OSU would certainly be a nice add for the PAC-12 and would give A&M the higher ground and a ton of leverage on UT for once.  The recruiting is there - huge new territory and no sharing Houston with the SEC, the pathway to the national title game is there, and the money is there.  More on this tomorrow.

Joining the SEC is trading an abusive "Big Brother" for 12 abusive meth addicted cousins

In a conference with UT—whatever it is—at least Aggies can complain to "mom" (their fellow Texans) for redressing Aggie greivences. 

If you join the SEC, A&M probably blows open Texas recruiting and in doing so end any Texas team's odds of having the depth to be in the national title discussion more than once in probably a generation.  A lot of people will be unhappy with A&M and will take it out on A&M in ways that Aggies haven't considered and will consider unfair.

Consider the fate of Nebraska. They had their membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities stripped this year.  That was a very unusual practice.  Now you can argue that Nebraska was kind on the fringe of meriting it anyway, but there is a fair bit of talk that the action was largely in response for bolting from the Big 12.

I mention this only to make Aggies aware that there are a lot of ways angry power brokers can come after A&M's academic growth and it's improving national academic reputation.  Is it worth devaluing A&M alumni degrees to become a member of a conference where A&M will likely finish fifth in its division each year?

Aggies really need to think about this. 


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