HOUSTON — The Texas A&M System board of regents has called a special meeting Monday that includes an agenda item about conference alignment. The session comes amid speculation that Texas A&M is leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference.
The item, part of the executive session agenda, is called: "Authorization for the President to Take All Actions Relating to Texas A&M University's Athletic Conference Alignment, The Texas A&M University System."
Texas A&M considered switching to the SEC last year before staying in the Big 12. The university hasn't confirmed it is again discussing a jump to the SEC, but talk has been intensifying that the Aggies are looking to leave.
The news of the meeting comes on the heels of the Texas House Committee on Higher Education calling a Tuesday hearing, to which Big 12, SEC and Texas A&M officials have been invited, to discuss possible realignment of college conferences in the state.
Florida State is another school that has been mentioned as a potential new addition to the SEC. But university President Eric Barron said he hasn't had any talks about his school leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference for the SEC. Still, he didn't say it would never happen.
Aggie internet message boards and blogs are lighting up with chatter about such a move and several posts on Friday said that students chanted: "SEC! SEC!" as university President R. Bowen Loftin walked to the podium at Texas A&M commencement ceremonies.
Such a move could jeopardize the future of the Big 12 and has state legislators concerned. The Higher Education committee said Commissioners Dan Beebe of the Big 12 and Mike Slive of the SEC have been invited to testify, as have Loftin and A&M system board of regents Chairman Richard A. Box.
There was speculation that administrators from other schools in the Big 12, who would be affected by such a move, would be invited to the hearing as well, but they were not included on the list.
"They have not called me and I'm not volunteering," Texas Tech President Guy Bailey said.
Beebe declined an interview request by The Associated Press to discuss a possible move by Texas A&M on Friday.
Texas A&M won't confirm that it is in discussions with the SEC, but Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Texas A&M graduate, told The Dallas Morning News this week that as far as he knows "conversations are being had" on the subject.
A&M athletic director Bill Byrne, who is out of the country traveling with the men's basketball team, declined comment on the subject through a spokesman. The only official word from A&M came in a statement released by Loftin on Wednesday.
"President Loftin is committed to doing what is best for Texas A&M not only now, but also into the future," the statement read. "We continue to have wide-ranging conversations regarding all aspects of the university, including both academics and athletics."
An SEC spokesman declined comment on the situation, but did say that Slive would not be meeting with Perry on Friday while the governor was in Birmingham, Ala. for a fundraiser.
The Big 12 looked to be in trouble last summer when Nebraska and Colorado left the conference and several other schools were courted by the Pac-10. Texas decided to stay in the Big 12, which made it much easier for Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State to remain in the league as well.
At that time, Loftin issued a letter addressed to "The Aggie Family" on A&M's decision to remain in the Big 12.
In the letter, he said by remaining a member of the Big 12: "We were able to more than double our financial return to the levels being offered by other conferences."
He added that: "I understand that some Aggies are disappointed, but I am confident this decision will serve Texas A&M well in the years to come. As athletic director Bill Byrne and I stated numerous times throughout this process, our hope and desire was for the Big 12 to continue. And we both agree that this is an exciting, new day for our league."
One possible reason for Texas A&M's renewed interest in leaving the Big 12 could be because the school isn't happy about The Longhorn Network — created through a 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN.
Texas hopes that Texas A&M remains in the Big 12.
"At this point we do not know if Texas A&M is leaving the Big 12," Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said in a statement. "All we know is what we read and hear in the media. We are actively looking at every possible option we have and have been talking to other Big 12 schools. We are strong supporters and members of the Big 12. We'd be disappointed if Texas A&M leaves but, if they do, we wish them well."
Baylor also weighed in on the subject, with athletic director Ian McCaw issuing a statement that said Baylor is "fully committed to the Big 12 Conference."
"We are working closely with our colleagues in the conference," McCaw said in the statement. "We look forward to continued and open dialog concerning ways we might work together to preserve our collective interests and ensure a bright and successful future for the Big 12."
Loftin added in the letter to A&M fans last summer that another consideration in staying in the conference was maintaining Texas A&M's "strong foothold" in the state and preserving rivalries that date back "more than 100 years."
Texas A&M has a large and rabid fan base and many Aggies were upset when the school decided to remain in the Big 12 and are miffed that their archrival Texas now has its own network while they do not.
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