The Texas A&M to SEC rumors have heated up the past few weeks, but on Friday it reached a deafening roar. News leaked that the Board of Regents would be voting today on a move to the SEC. However, various reports have it that the SEC is unlikely to vote to allow Texas A&M into the conference. The New York Times ran a story Saturday where an SEC insider said there was only a 30-40 percent chance of the SEC voting to allow the expansion. Reports today indicate the SEC did not vote to expand yesterday when school presidents within the conference met.
Don’t despair, however, Aggies. I still believe Texas A&M will be in the SEC by the 2013 football season.
Fellow lawyer, Clay Travis, did a nice job of explaining how television contracts complicate the situation. Essentially, ESPN has contracts with both the SEC and Big 12. If Texas A&M makes the move, ESPN and the SEC could be subject to lawsuits from the Big 12. Why? ESPN’s current contract with the Big 12 states that if the conferences drops below ten members the contract is cancelled. Meanwhile, the SEC would be able to renegotiate its television contract with ESPN with the addition of a new member. If the Big 12 were to lose its television contract, it could come after both ESPN and the SEC. Accordingly, I expect ESPN to either agree to honor the contract without Texas A&M or for the Big 12 to add a new member quickly.
So, why hasn’t the SEC hasn’t issued a formal invite to Texas A&M? Legally speaking, the best way to effectuate this move is for Texas A&M to decide to leave the Big 12 before the SEC invites them to join the conference. That’s why I think you’ll hear the SEC denying any expansion until after Texas A&M has completed everything on its end. In fact, Arkansas Chancellor Dave Gearhart has confirmed Texas A&M approached the SEC, not the other way around. This makes it more difficult for the Big 12 to claim any kind of tortious interference by the SEC. The SEC will throw up their hands and simply say, “They came to us.”
It looks like a gamble by Texas A&M – what if they announce they’re leaving the Big 12 and then the SEC doesn’t offer? It’s certainly not the way conference realignment generally works. However, conversations have obviously been had between Texas A&M and the SEC. Despite what it may look like to the public, Texas A&M wouldn’t vote on leaving the conference if they weren’t already positive they have a new home.
I’m sure ESPN has also been involved in the conversations at some level. The SEC isn’t going to add Texas A&M without knowing the television contract will increase by enough to make adding a new member a smart decision. And remember how ESPN was involved with making this year’s Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game between UGA and Boise State become a reality. They could be an important piece in making the situation work for all parties involved.
Bottom line: I think the SEC will be welcoming Texas A&M by the end of the week.