Texas A&M plans to leave Big 12 by July 2012

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Baylor President Ken Starr still believes the Big 12 has a “bright future,” even without the Aggies.

“We know that the Big 12 is an exciting and attractive conference for many reasons, including the quality of our academic programs, the strength of our athletic teams, the support of our loyal fans and the depth of our vibrant traditions,” Starr said.

Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) left the league in July a year after a wild round of realignment that also affected the Mountain West, Big East and WAC.

So far, the only school to publicly express interest in joining the Big 12 is SMU, the former Southwest Conference team that now plays in Conference USA and has climbed back to respectability after receiving the NCAA’s only “death penalty” punishment after a pay-for-play scandal in the 1980s.

Another Conference USA team, Houston, could also be an option for the Big 12. Athletic director Mack Rhoades would not say Wednesday if he has been in touch with the Big 12 or any other conference.

“We’re always going to look to get better, and look for opportunity,” Rhoades said. “Whether that comes, whether that doesn’t, I certainly can’t answer that. But we’re in a great conference right now, and we’re going to continue to be a great member. But we’re also going to do everything we can to get better.”

Rhoades said he believes A&M’s decision could be the first domino in changes across the landscape of college football.

“Right now, let’s face it, that’s the world of college athletics,” he said. “Whatever happens here in the next week, two weeks, three months, who knows what the timeline is? I don’t think it ends there. I think it’s going to continue to evolve over the next few years.”

BYU, currently a football independent, could also be an attractive option to the Big 12. The school wouldn’t say if it is interested in the conference.

“There is much speculation right now regarding conference affiliation that seems to change by the hour,” the BYU statement said. “Commenting on such conjecture is not productive and creates a distraction for our program. As we enter the 2011-12 athletic season, BYU is focused on the opportunities ahead. We are excited about our relationship with ESPN as a football independent and our affiliation with the West Coast Conference.”

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said on a conference call on Tuesday before the Aggies announced their intention to leave that he thinks the school is “aligned and positioned where we belong,” but that not being affiliated with the BCS is one drawback.

“Right now bluntly we have to go undefeated twice in a very short amount of time to have a shot at the national title,” he said. “So there’s kind of a Catch 22, but for now and maybe for the relative long term I’m really, really comfortable with this independent role and if I can help our team play at the highest level and maybe that inclusion will come just through the number of games we win in terms of access to the national championship.”

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick was asked about the Big 12 on Wednesday.

“Notre Dame is firmly committed to its motto of football independence and Big East affiliation in those sports sponsored by the Big East,” Swarbrick said.

The Big 12 has formed a committee to look for replacements.

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