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Texas A&M’s move to SEC held up by legal threat

- Associated Press - Thursday, September 8, 2011

MONTGOMERY, ALA. (AP) - Texas A&M and the Southeastern Conference have a roadblock standing in the way of their anticipated union: Baylor.

After SEC presidents and chancellors unanimously embraced adding the Aggies to the 12-member league, it turns out there was no such unanimity in the embattled Big 12 conference.

Baylor is considering suing if Texas A&M leaves and Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe said in an e-mail obtained by The Associated Press that the SEC must get waivers from each institution in his conference.

The SEC doesn't want any part of a court battle over the Aggies.

The legal infighting "has derailed SEC expansion for the moment," said LSU Chancellor Mike Martin

"Clearly there is instability and a bit of chaos within the Big 12, which we hope will be resolved for the sake of Texas A&M and, indeed, for all of college sports," Martin said.

Beebe said he "regrets" the confusion, but he's also fighting to keep the Big 12 from unraveling.

He said it is unprecedented for a school and rival conference to ask for a waiver preventing suit for damages sustained because of realignment.

And though the Big 12 Board of Directors agreed on Sept. 2 to waive any legal action from the league or its members if Texas A&M leaves, Beebe said Wednesday that "the waiver did not and could not bind the individual member institutions' governing boards to waive institutional rights."

"If the departure of Texas A&M results in significant changes in the Big 12 membership, several institutions may be severely affected after counting on revenue streams from contracts that were approved unanimously by our members, including Texas A&M," Beebe said in a statement. "In some cases, members reasonably relied on such approval to embark on obligations that will cost millions of dollars."

Mississippi Chancellor Dr. Dan Jones said Texas A&M and the Big 12 must resolve their problems before the SEC can move forward. If and when the legal issues are resolved, the SEC will make the Aggies the league's 13th team to complete a courtship Texas A&M initiated in July. It could lead to a massive realignment of the college football landscape and maybe a significant push toward 16-team super conferences.

The 12 presidents and chancellors all voted Tuesday in favor of making the SEC the first BCS conference with more than a dozen members.

Then the deal hit a snag with Baylor's resistance.

"The SEC has stated that to consider an institution for membership, there must be no contractual hindrances to its departure," said Florida President Bernie Machen, chairman of the SEC leaders.

SEC spokesman Charles Bloom declined further comment on Wednesday.

Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement the Aggies "are disappointed in the threats made by one of the Big 12 member institutions to coerce Texas A&M into staying in Big 12."

Jones said the SEC is not willing to get into a domestic dispute between Texas A&M and the Big 12.

"We've been clear that we'd be happy to receive them if they're unfettered of obligations," he said. "We gathered to have a vote. We had a letter that clearly gave us legal clearance. It was frustrating to be gathered and then have things pulled out from under Texas A&M like that. We're disappointed for Texas A&M."

Texas A&M has made it clear it wants a higher profile and more revenue and that the Aggies are unhappy with the creation of the Longhorn Network at rival Texas. And the SEC would also reap additional revenue and extended visibility as a result of a move into the state of Texas.

"You know how many households there are in Texas? 8.9 million," a person familiar with the situation has told AP previously, adding that the league had to listen when the Aggies came knocking. "Why would we want to hand that to the Pac 12 or any another conference?"

The person said it's a "business decision" for the SEC.

The Aggies will likely have to pay an exit fee for leaving the Big 12. It cost Nebraska $9.25 million and Colorado $6.9 million. But that shouldn't hold up the move, considering the SEC distributed a record $18.3 million in revenue to each of the 12 members this year.

With that kind of money _ and possibly even more to be had _ conference realignment across the country could be on the horizon.

"The landscape is changing," said Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. "It's that old saying: It's not about the money, it's about the amount."

The poaching of schools is already well under way.

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long told the AP that his school had been contacted about joining the shrinking Big 12 _ which has already lost Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12). Oklahoma president David Boren said last week that multiple conferences have expressed interest in the Sooners and he expects a decision within a few weeks.

Oklahoma State billionaire booster Boone Pickens also said he doesn't think the Big 12 will survive much longer and predicted the Cowboys will eventually join the Pac-12.

The speculation on the SEC swiftly changed from who might be a likely 14th team to will there be a 13th?

David Williams, Vanderbilt's vice chancellor for university affairs and athletics, thinks the SEC would be fine with only 13 _ or 12.

"The Big 10 stayed at 11 for quite awhile," he said. "I think that our folks at the conference, they'll work all of this out; 12, 13, 14 whatever it is we'll be a happy family."

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AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins, Kurt Voigt, Kristie Rieken, Teresa Walker, Beth Rucker and David Brandt contributed to this report.

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