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May 10, 2012 / busmasterjones

Bill Byrne: Athletic Directing Done Right

After ten years as the Athletic Director at Texas A&M University, Bill Byrne is retiring.  In his farewell speech he mentioned being tired and that it was time.  He took his share of shots over the years for raising ticket prices and failing to rebuild the Aggie football program to the heights it acheived in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but let’s take a balanced look back on the time Bill Byrne spent in Aggieland to make sure that we truly understand what Byrne left behind in College Station.

Bill Byrne brought a new level of visibility and professionalism to the position of Athletic Director.  There are many familiar names on the list of past Athletic Directors at Texas A&M — Bear Bryant, Jackie Sherrill, and John David Crow — but it wasn’t until Bill Byrne took over as the eighth AD in the history of the school that A&M really started to reach stride as an athletic program.

For anyone who follows college athletics — not just football, but the entire college athletic scene — the rise of A&M to prominence in almost every sport is tied very directly to the hire of Bill Byrne.  When Dr. Robert Gates (A&M’s president at the time) hired Byrne, he wanted to change the way A&M approached athletics.  No longer content to just be compeitive in football, Gates found the premiere AD in college athletics and hired him away from the Nebraska.  It was a bold move that would finally awaken the sleeping giant in College Station.

It was apparent that something was different from day one.  For followers of Aggie athletics, there was suddenly a peak behind the curtain.  The good ole boy network image where the AD’s office was apparently being run by chummy men in their 50’s and 60’s from a room filled with cigar smoke was instantly gone.  Byne started his Wednesday Weekly column as a communication forum to those who followed the program.  It was unprecedented openness from an office that had been run from a distance in the past.  Byrne covered every topic imaginable from dealing with bats and their guano under Kyle Field to the financial realities of college athletics.  He talked about the difficulty in replacing coaches and drummed up student support for sports other than football.  He even laid out his blueprint for success for those who paid attention.

Byrne’s time as the great communicator of college sports began before his time at A&M.  His A&M communcation was patterned after a similar outlet that he used while at Nebraska to cimmunicate with the rabid fans there.  Instead of deling with rumors, Byrne wisely established a regular and open line of communication directly to the fan base.  This gave him a voice outside of media spin that he could use to get his message to the public.  And for fans of the team, you no longer had to be a high dollar contributor to learn about what was going on in the world of Aggie sports.  It was a great move that helped when high profile situations arose and raised awareness of a number of sports at A&M.

Another day one change that came in with Byrne was increased expectations.  The bar was raised, and raised high for A&M coaches.  You would be committed to Building Champions or you would be shown the door.  When coaches did leave the program, Byrne replaced them with some of the best coaches in the country who were also a cultural fit for A&M.  Pat Henry had won 27 National Championships while at LSU and was hired away to come rebuild an A&M track program that was at the bottom of the conference. Gary Blair was hired away from Arkansas after turning their losing women’s basketball program into a regular NCAA tournament team that reached the Final Four on one occasion.  Up and coming men’s basketball coach Billy Gillispie was brought in to help a lagging men’s basketball team.

With his coaches of the future in place, Byrne set expectations for everyone.  Byrne conducted an annual coaches retreat where coaches could share ideas about recuriting, practice, and balancing education and athletics.  Coaches were not siloed by sport, but instead were encouraged to share and support one another.

As AD, Byrne also provided a new level of support for his coaches.  He gave the coaches and their sports exposure thorugh his weekly column on the athletics website.  Byrne regularly trumpted successes in all sports and reminded people about upcoming games and events.  He also encouraged student participation through a rewards program that could net an avid fan a jersey at the end of the season for going to a high number of sporting events.

He campaigned for and got new facilities to arm coaches with a recruiting advantage.  Over $100 million of improvements to athletic facilities was done under Byrne including upgrades to virtually every sports venue.  The improved facilities allowed A&M to get on the short list for NCAA tournaments giving the Aggies home field, court, or pool advantage when playing at the highest level.

Byrne’s formula for success paid off over his ten years at A&M.  Prior to Byrne A&M claimed only six national titles in any sport [football (1), softball (3), and equestrian (2)].  Under Bill Byrne’s administration, A&M won its first championship in men’s golf, men’s outdoor track & field, women’s outdoor track & field, and women’s basketball.  They also continued their run with 7 equestiran – western national titles in a non-NCAA sport and won an overall equestrian title in 2012.  Both men’s and women’s track have repeated their national championships from 2009 – 2011.  The Aggies also won 45 Big 12 conference championships in 13 sports since he took over in 2002.  In fact, once the momentum was built, Texas A&M won 37 conference championships from 2006 – 2012 which is more than any other team in the conference including their “friends from the state capital.”

Byrne did have a few negatives that dogged him during his tenure.  The football program could never quite hit stride.  One good season full of promise wold yield to a mediocre campaign the next year.  Byrne is on his third coach going into the 2012 football season in an effort to recapture glory from 20-30 years ago.  Heading to the Southeastern Conference will not make matters any easier.

Byrne was often blasted for raising ticket prices.  Public tickets in Kyle Field were $35 in 2002.  Today they may run double that or more.  When you take into account that tickets to the neutral site A&M/Arkansas game start at around $100 each, it is clear that Aggie football tickets were priced well undermarket for years.  Byrne should not be faulted for bumping prices closer to market value.  A&M football games are still a good buy for a sporting event in Texas.  Tickets compare favorably with other college venues in price.

Byrne will be blasted for some for the lack of success of the football program in the last 10 years.  For those that have the perspective to see outside of a single sport — and not everyone does in Texas — A&M has truly made remarkable strides.  Using the Learfield Sports Director’s Cup as a measuring stick, A&M’s final position has risen to a consistently high level.

2008-09    13th (2nd in Big 12)

2009-10     6th (1st in Big 12)

2010-11     8th (1st in Big 12)

2011-12     12th currently with some strong sports for A&M yet to come

Byrne has done an outstanding job at A&M raising the level of competitiveness across the board.  Rather than inhabiting the basement in many sports, A&M is competing — and winning — on a national level.  The increased exposure and excitement helped position A&M for a move to the SEC and continues to feed the recruiting machine that is so necessary for future success.

Bill Byrne not only has built champions at Texas A&M, he is a champion.

 

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April 29, 2012 / busmasterjones

Will the Big XII Miss Texas A&M?

If you attend a Big XII school, you are likely saying “of course not” to answer the question posed in the title.  However, the question wasn’t “Will Baylor (or fill in your school name here) miss Texas A&M?” but rather will the Big XII — the conference as a whole — miss Texas A&M.

To miss a school, that school should have made a contribution to the whole.  Did A&M pull its weight in the Big XII athletic conference?  Let’s take a look…

Conference Championships

Baseball  1998, 1999, 2007, 2008, 2010*, 2011

Women’s Basketball 2007, 2008, 2010

Equestrian 2011

Football 1997, 1998, 2010

Women’s Golf 1998, 2006, 2007, 2010

Men’s Golf 2012

Women’s Soccer 1997*, 2001, 2002, 2004*, 2005*, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011

Softball 2005, 2008*

Women’s Swimming & Diving 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012

Men’s Tennis 2000, 2001*, 2011

Womn’s Tennis 2003, 2004

Men’s Indoor Track & Field  2011, 2012

Women’s Indoor Track & Field 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012

Men’s Outdoor Track & Field 2001, 2011

Women’s Outdoor Track & Field 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011

National Exposure

Men’s Basketball  6 NCAA tournament appearances

Women’s Basketball  2011 National Champions

Equestrian 2012 Western National Champions

Equestrian 2012 Overall National Champions

Men’s Golf 2009 National Champions

Men’s Outdoor Track 2009, 2010, 2011 National Champions

Women’s Outdoor Track 2009, 2010, 2011 National Champions

In fact, Texas A&M has 10 National Championships since 2009.  All other Big XII schools have 5 combined national titles in the same time period, so the Aggies beat the other teams in the conference 2 to 1.

Yes, Texas A&M will be missed.  To think otherwise ignores the facts.

December 30, 2011 / busmasterjones

Aggie Sports Pessimist

I can’t help it.  It must be an innate response to some cosmic sports mojo, but I never like my team being favored in a big game.  I just don’t.  I have seen too many bad things happen in my sports life to have confidence in a 10 point line in favor od my team.  That alone was enough to make me nervous.  Pile that on top of a season where Murphy (of Murphy’s Law fame) decided to take up residence in College Station and follow a team full of promise in its quest to break the heart of each and every Aggie fan.  A single-point loss to a good Oklahoma State team that the Aggies led much of the game was just the start.  A 35-17 halftime lead over Arkansas turned into a 4 point loss.  Sigh.

Again, it was just the beginning.  An overtime loss to Missouri let an 11-point halftime lead melt into a drop from the national rankings.  That set the stage for a 4OT loss to Kansas State when the Aggies had a win in hand after the 3rd OT when the Aggies’ leading receiver dropped a rocketed pass in the end zone for the win.  Sigh.

After the 2011 season was to be the year of the Aggie breakout, color me skeptical when I read that A&M is a 10 point favorite over Northwestern.  Things align well for the Aggies.  A&M is favored.  Northwestern is also 6-6 this season.  The game is in the Aggies’ back yard in Houston for goodness sake.  How could things set up more perfectly?  Wait, there is more.  The Aggies have a substitute head coach, so now they have the “win one for the outgoing coach” theme going for them.  And A&M had an offensive lineman pass away in a tragic car accident over the holiday break, so they have his memory to play for, too.

Then, I learned that Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1948 Rose Bowl.  That’s right, they are 1-8 in bowl appearances.  They took Missouri to OT in 2009 and took Auburn to OT in 2010 before losing both games by a single score.  Last year they almost came back after a slow start before falling to a Texas Tech team that is 7-2 in bowl game since 2002.

Now I have gone from concerned to outright worried.  The Aggies should win this going away.  Like the Alamo Bowl they should have won over Penn State after jumping out to a 14-0 lead.  Like the Independence Bowl over Mississippi State that the Aggies managed to lose by 2 points in the snow.  Like the 1993 and 1997 Cotton Bowls.  Oh, yes, I have a list.  I have lived many a disappointment when my team has been favored.  Give me the underdog status any day.  Give me a 65-14 romp over a favored and overconfident BYU team in the 1990 Holiday Bowl.  Give me the great 1985 Cotton Bowl win over Bo Jackson’s Auburn team.  I love the underdog label.  Once expectations catch up to past reality…look out!  Things get a little messy and a lot of heartache is possible.

Now that I know that Northwestern can exorcise 63-year old demons by beating a 10 point favorite on essentially their home turf…well, I think the underdog mojo will be wearing a deep shade of purple and will be as ornery as possible come game day.  So “good luck to dear old Texas Aggies.”  I’m going to yell and support you with everything I can, but I fear your 10 year bowl victory drought pales in comparison to that of your opponent, so you will be fighting an uphill battle on the Houston Bowl on New Year’s Eve.  I hope for the best, but I am bracing my sports heart for the worst.

October 17, 2011 / busmasterjones

Quick Hits

Not “Year of the Peyton” in the NFL

Peyton Manning is out for the year with an injury.  He is a QB and that can happen, but now Saints coach Sean Peyton is run into on the sidelines resulting in a broken leg.  Ouch!

Don’t Mess with Texas…A&M

With the 55-28 thumping of Baylor on Saturday, A&M is 8-1 against teams from the state of Texas in the last three seasons with the lone defeat coming at the hands of a school from Austin that was on its way to a national championship game loss to mighty Alabama.

Overrated

Last week’s overrated teams were Illinois (folding to Ohio State), Georgia Tech (losing to Virginia), texas (losing to Oklahoma State), and Michigan (bested by Michigan State).  This week I’m not sure Clemson loses to North Carolina, but I’m just not convinced that Clemson is a top 10 team.  I have been a Boise State defender for years, but they need to play three top 25 non-conference games to make up for a weak, weak conference schedule, so I am getting off the bus even if they run the table.  I don’t think Michigan State survives Wisconsin and Nebraska in back-to-back weeks, but I do think their ranking in the mid teens is appropriate.  I expect Virginia Tech to stumble late, not because of the schedule, but because there seems to be one or two hiccup games a year from the Hokies and they only have one loss to date.  Michigan will get back up this week, but they still have Illinois, Nebraska, and Ohio State to face and they will do well to win two of those games.  Congrats to Washington for climbing back in to the polls.  Your hard-fought climb is about to end as you get Stanford on the road and two weeks later get Oregon.

We’ve Only Just Begun…to Take Our Licks

A few teams who just tasted defeat for the first time who might want to get used to the taste:

Michigan — is a team that should be in the top 25, but in the lower half of the lower half.  They lost a lot of respect with those uniforms and lost to Michigan State, too.  They should expect some tough sledding in November with Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, and Ohio State on the schedule.

Illinois — after a great start, batten down the hatches.  Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan want to ruin your season.

Helmet Stickers

Michigan State seniors — Spartan seniors have swept Michigan for four straight seasons.  Their last lost to the Wolverines was a nail biter in 2007.  Nice job, Spartans.  (Ohio State seniors for the past 4 years are shrugging saying “What’s the big deal?” having not lost to Michigan since 2003.

Oregon Ducks — despite the uniforms and an opening loss to LSU, the Ducks are rolling.  Only a road game against Stanford lies between the Ducks and a BCS game.

College Football’s Top 10  — LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Stanford, and Oregon are all for real.  Arkansas, Boise State, and Clemson I have doubts about, but when was the last time a top 10 was this solid?

Where’s the Love?

Penn State is 6-1 atop their half of the Big 10…and they are unranked.  Their sole loss is to Alabama (get used to hearing that as Arkansas knows that tune and LSU may learn it in November).  They don’t score many points, but they given up 11.6 point per game.  They have a murder’s row yet to face with the Illini, Cornhuskers, Buckeyes, and Badgers yet to come , but rankings should be based on what has been done, not what might not be done.  One-loss Arkansas is #10 and one-loss Penn State is unranked.  Both lost to Alabama.  Go figure.  Penn State’s games are tight, but they deserve a ranking this week.

Conference Calls

Some conferences have a single game that will determine the champion.  It is never that simple, but who can understate the importance of:

Nov 5 — LSU @ Alabama [SEC]

Nov 12 — Oregon @ Stanford [PAC-12]

Dec. 8 — Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State [Big 12]

The Big 10 heavyweights are in opposite divisions (Wisconsin vs either Michigan State or Nebraska).

Easy Street

With no ranked teams left on their schedule, West Virginia has a clear path to a BCS bowl, yet I contend they would lose to well over half of the teams in the Top 25.  The Big East should have their BCS punch card revoked.

October 5, 2011 / busmasterjones

Texas A&M v. Baylor

Baylor President Ken Starr lamented the distruction of century old rivalries as A&M was looking to join the SEC.  He missed three key points.  Schools do not have to exist in the same conference to maintain a rivalry.  Florida and Florida State, Georgia and Georgia Tech, and for many years Oklahoma and Texas have all done quite well generating national interest with non-conference rivalries.  Second, Ken Starr’s actions only served to alienate the two schools.  A&M became bitter that Baylor was blockading the door for them to leave the Big 12.  Behind Starr, Baylor fans were convinced that A&M was being selfish and was ruining their athletic program.  Students and professors there claimed that A&M leaving the Big 12 would cause an increase in student fees.  A&M fans funded a billboard lampooning Baylor’s legal threats in light of their faith-based school roots.  That is not behavior conducive to keeping sporting contests on the schedule, although it does increase the intensity of the “rivalry.”

The final thing Ken Starr missed is that rivals should go both ways.  A one-way domination of one school over the other is not generally considered a rivalry.  In football, A&M holds a decided advantage over Baylor at 67-31-9 all-time over the Bears.  “Hold on!” you say, “What about A&M caliming to be rivals with Texas?”  A&M is in the hole against their rivals from Austin 37-75-5, a winning percentage similar to that of Baylor against the Aggies.  There are two key differences.  First, A&M and tu are the two biggest state institutions by nearly every measure.  This produces a “natural” rivalry that many states have between the dominant state schools.  This is evidenced by the rivalries I mentioned in Florida and Georgia and you can layer on many more like North Carolina and North Carolina State, Auburn and Alabama, Michigan and Michigan State, USC and UCLA, etc.  It is not uncommon for these rivalries to produce upsets because of the intensity of the effort and emotion going into the game.  A second difference is recent results compared to older results.  In the last 25 years, the Aggies have the upper hand over tu 13-12.  By contrast, A&M is 22-2-1 against Baylor since 1986.  For the Aggies and Bears, what was once a stout rivalry (the Battle of the Brazos) has been diminished by Baylor’s lack of competitiveness.  With the Aggies beating Texas over half the time as of late, the fires are stoked on both sides as tu wants to regain the upper hand and the Aggies want to keep things rolling and make a bigger dent in the all-time record.

To be fair, I don’t want to dismiss Baylor out of distate for them.  Let’s see over the final Big 12 season for the Aggies how things play out on the field, court, track, pool, and arena.  I will track the results of A&M and Baylor contests to see if this is a rivalry across the board.  If Baylor can prove their worth on the field, then perhaps they can claim rival status, at least this season.  Without further ado, here are the contests between the Aggies and Bears with the results:

 

Aggies v. Baylor 2011/2012
9/1 Cross Country (M) Waco W 25-40
9/1 Cross Country (W) Waco L 17-82
9/16 Soccer College Station W 2-1
9/17 Cross Country (M)  Waco W 15-51
9/17 Cross Country (W)  Waco W 18-79
9/28 Volleyball College Station W 3-2
10/15 Football College Station W 55-28
11/9 Volleyball Waco W 3-1
11/18 Equestrian Waco W 12-11
1/1/2012 Basketball (M) Waco  L  
2/1 Basketball (M) Bryan  L  
2/11 Basketball (W) Waco  L  
2/27 Basketball (W) College Station  L  
3/10 Equestrian Bryan  W  
3/28 Softball College Station  W  
4/10 Softball Waco  W  
4/20 Baseball College Station  L  
4/21 Baseball Waco  L  
4/22 Baseball Waco  L  
4/24 Softball College Station  W  
September 20, 2011 / busmasterjones

The Best of Conference Realignment

There has been so much said about college football conference realignment that it is time to hand out some superlatives.

Worst Use of Limited Funds

Ken Starr reportedly took a trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby Kay Bailey Hutchison for her support in stopping this conference realignment madness.  On the heals of that trip, Syracuse and Pittsburgh leave the Big East to punctuate the fact that this is bigger than anything Baylor can stop.  For a school that is scrambling to not be left without a seat when the music stops, that was not a good use of money.

Best Billboard

This one goes to Aggie fans who are justifiably irritated by the attempted legal power play of Ken Starr and Baylor.  The sign is visible from I-35 in Waco, TX and the closest cross street is  the main exit for Baylor’s football stadium.  The image says it all:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best View From the Catbird Seat

Despite starting all of this mess, Texas remains the school with the most viable options.  Pac-12, Big 10, ACC, independent.  It looks like the Longhorns will consider anything other than the SEC.  I’m not sure if that is because it is too competitive, if they won’t be the obvious controlling school, or because they don’t want to follow A&M.  Whatever the reason, it appears that, as one writer put it, Texas is Scared of the SEC.

Best Side Effect

We may be rid of the Big East and its automatic qualifier.  After the decline of Syracuse on the field and the departure of Miami and Virginia Tech for the ACC following the 2004 season, the Big East has not been a legitimate player on the national BCS scene.  Boise State and TCU deserved a BCS berth more than Cincinnati or Connecticut.  The Big East champion has lost by an average of 22 points in their BCS bowl in the last three years.

Best Creative Twist to Conference Realignment

Kudos to Chadd Scott and Kristi Dosh for their lighthearted and pretty thoughtful consideration of as many options as possible.  It is a great what if scenario tester called Conference Realignment – Choose Your Own Adventure Style.

Best Zingers

Best Legal Landmine Navigation

If it ever comes to pass, Texas A&M President Bowen Loftin and SEC Mike Slive have played the perfect diplomatic game in public, denying interest, asking for procedures and even for permission before formally talking.  Despite the great care and diplomacy, nothing can stop a bear bent on a frivolous self-protecting lawsuit.

Right Place, Wrong Time

Texas A&M is making the right move in heading to the SEC, but by being the first to jump — or try to jump — they took the slings and arrows.  Ironically, they may be one of the last schools to officially move even though they were the first to start the process.

 Wrong Place, Wrong Time

TCU wanted to make it into an automatic qualifier (AQ) conference in the worst way.  They ended up making the move in the worst way.  Back in November of 2010, TCU declared for the Big East starting with the 2012 season.  The only problem is that the landscape has changed so much that the conference they pledged to join may be a shadow of its former self if it exists at all.

Best Move

Not all of the votes are counted yet, but anyone leaving the Big 12 or Big East for higher ground is a candidate.

Best Original Work

 Geography of College Football Fans from the NY Times blog

Conference Realignment – Choose Your Own Adventure Style

Texas A&M and Oklahoma Declare Independence from Texas – tells it very bluntly

 Good legal explanation of Baylor vs. SEC from The Business of College Sports

Good cultural cross-pollination between SEC and the Aggies

Straight talk on A&M to SEC financial impact  to counter the Perryman Report

Aggie/SEC ties from the past

September 8, 2011 / busmasterjones

Big 12 News: Putting it Together Before it Falls Apart

The second “it” in the title refers to the Big 12 and the changes that are going on there.  It is like a rumbling volcano.  We all know that it is going to erupt, be we don’t know when and with how much damage.  The first “it” — the storyline — is more intriguing as news and rumors trickle out from numerous sources.  This is like a Agatha Christie mysteryunfolding before our very eyes.  The detective in me in looking to unravel the end of the story before it all unfolds, so let’s don the Sherlock Holmes hat and dive in for some detective work.

As a good detective it is important to review the things we actually know — just the facts. ma’am — and separate those from speculation and rumors.  The facts we know to be true.  Speculation may or may not be true.

The Big 12 is Unstable

Stability can come and go, but I think that the track record is there for us to conclude that the Big 12 is unstable.  It is a bridge made of Jello spanning a great divide.  I introduce Nebraska as exhibit A.  Nebraska left at least in part because it grew weary of being at odds with the big dog in the conference.  Texas was getting its way with great regularity which meant that Nebraska wasn’t.  This was the source of some instability and uneasiness in the conference.  Nebraska bolted for a better situation.  Jelaousy between member schools is not a healthy conference environment.

Exhibit B is Colorado.  The Buffaloes left the conference in the summer of 2010 just like Nebraska, but the similarities end there.  Colorado got wind of a possible group move to the Pac 10, saw that they were not on the bus going west, and launched a preemptive strike to box out Baylor for the final seat.   With Baylor and Colorado being discussed as the sixth team in the deal (added to Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State), Colorado wanted to make sure they had a seat when the smoke cleared, so they became the first to join the Pac 10 instead of waiting to see if they would be the last.  In an ironic twist, the deal for the other five fell apart when A&M started talking to the SEC and Texas’ soon-to-be network became sticking points.  A level of status quo returned, but Colorado had already made the jump.  That caused furture instability as Colorado outmanuvered Baylor.  Jockeying for the last parachute on the plane does not promote an atmosphere of togetherness.

Even the genesis of the conference speaks to its instability.  Baylor and Texas Tech were only included because of legislative pressure, so Texas and Texas A&M had to drag along a couple of schools into the deal while the equally worthy University of Houston — a state school — and the once proud private schools SMU, TCU, and Rice were left out in the cold.  By most logic, U of H is a better fit for the conference than Baylor, but Baylor had support in high places.

Not only was the Southwest Conference portion of the Big 12 awkwardly constructed, but you had the Big 8 with different academic criteria joining with the SWC which caused friction on what the Big 12’s academic standards should be.  Even with the minority of schools (4 from the SWC compared to 8 from the Big 8), Texas quickly became the loudest voice in the room which rubbed some former Big 8 members — most notably Nebraska — the wrong way.  To the Big 8 it was like someone you invited to the party that you were hosting started to change the menu and boss the party planner around.  It was tense to say the least.

Constant Self-Interest Reigns

Time for a new fact.  Everything that has happened to date in the Big 12 is due to self interest on the part of the party involved.  Texas wanted a move of six teams to the Pac 10 last year because it was good for Texas.  Texas A&M threw a wrench into the Pac 10 move with SEC flirtations because A&M did not think the Pac 10 move was the best thing for Texas A&M.  Nebraska sought what was best for Nebraska with its departure to the Big 10, and Colorado protected its interests when it declared early for the Pac 10.  Does anyone seriously doubt the common thread of self-interest in this conference?  Moving on to speculation.

 The Big 12 is Doomed

 You may call this a fact, but this is still speculation. It is speculation that I believe will come to pass, but it is still speculation.  At the moment, the Big 12 is a going concern with 10 members.  Texas A&M obviously has bags packed, is in the airport, and is waiting for the flight delays to subside so it can board a plane to the SEC.  Oklahoma has publicly stated last week that it expected to make a decision in the next three weeks about its conference alignment future.  The conventional wisdom is that where OU goes, Oklahoma State will also go.  They are a package deal.  If A&M, OU, and OSU leave, the Big 12 would be down to the little seven with one national power on the board.

Short Term vs Long Term Interests

Eventually, we all expect to see the Big 12 dissolve, but today’s decisions are not forever with this conference.  Last year’s pledges were made based on last year’s circumstances.  There was no Longhorn Network last summer.  A&M talks with the SEC were suspended (at least publicly) and a new way to split the money pot was determined.  That was so 2010.  Today’s decisions are all about what serves today’s self-interests.  This is where the plot thickens.  Last week, A&M was on the way to the SEC and the Big 12 and its members pledged not to interfere with the mvoe in the courts.  A&M was almost free and clear…until OU made noise about leaving at the end of the week.  Talk about a game changer.  The little guys felt secure if A&M left and everyone else stayed, but once another big dog started to discuss options, that changed the equation.  Instead of having a home, shaky though it was, in 2012, not Baylor started to see the writing on the wall.  It was 1995 all over again and they were about to be left out in the cold.  They had already played the Texas state legislature card earlier when A&M was talking about and SEC move and that went nowhere.

Baylor’s friends are not in high enough places at this point, and the governor this time around is not a Bear but an Aggie.  Baylor had to think fast to preserve their major conference lifestyle.  Baylor’s president is famous (or  infamous) for his role in exposing President Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky even though his investigation was reportedly aimed at suspect real estate dealings.  One could say he got a bit off course, but in reality he was looking for dirt and found it in another corner.  The point is Ken Starr knows the value of a good lawsuit.  Or a bad one.

Baylor is After OU

Time to draw some conclusions.  Baylor’s threat of a lawsuit is aimed at the SEC and A&M’s move on the surface only.  Again, they were fine with the A&M move as late as September 2nd.  Baylor’s threats are meant to be a deterrent to the Pac 12 in talking to Okalahoma.  It is a wanring shot.  If you come after one of our members, we are going to make it a long and nasty process.  Just look at what we are doing to the SEC and A&M.  Baylor is playing its final card and is lashing out with legal vigor.  Clay Travis has a great discussion of why Baylor’s position has no merit (http://outkickthecoverage.com/why-baylors-claims-against-the-sec-have-no-merit.php), but if it is the only bullet you have left in your gun and you are threatened, don’t you shoot anyway?

Texas Backs Baylor

So Baylor’s claim has no merit.  It may not need to have any legal basis to be effective.  Reports are starting to circulate (for example http://northwestern.rivals.com/showmsg.asp?fid=57&tid=162506546&mid=162506546&sid=901&style=2 and yes, I know it is a forum — again, we are diving in to rumors to try to determine the end of the story before it is written) that the Texas and Notre Dame talks took a left turn when Texas wanted to woo them into the Big 12 to replace A&M.  ND reportedly said no, but that doesn’t mean that Texas and Notre Dame stopped talking.  The link posted above says that Texas and Notre Dame have discussed joining the Big 10, but not until some later date like 2014.  Texas, who was caught by surprise when A&M started to seriously talk with the SEC.  I think Texas has always had a master plan in mind (be it independence or being the alpha dog in a super conference) and it trying to follow that plan.  If that means they support Baylor to keep the Big 12 together long enough to let their plan unfold, then they will support Baylor.  They don’t care about Baylor.  They don’t need Baylor for the long haul and didn’t want Baylor in 1995.  But at the moment, Baylor is a great pawn to use to help “save the Big 12.”  It has nothing to do with Baylor and everything to do with Texas’ long term plans.  If they can rock along in a weakened Big 12 for a few more years, draw a nice TV paycheck, pocket the Longhorn Network mone, and reap the benefits of an easy conference schedule while their rebuilf the on-field product, then Texas would be as happy as a pig in slop.  If they can let Baylor take the arrows and be out front, all the better for the Texas public relations machine.  After all, we all know that in Austin they love rivalries more than life itself and that there is no higher calling than duty, honor, and keeping the Big 12 together — at least through the 2013 football season when they can join the Big 10 during a TV contract renegotiation window to maximize their take home pay.  At that point the rally cry changes from “save the Big 12” and “don’t mess with storied Texas football rivalries” to “the landscape has changed” and “we have to look out for the best interests of Texas” and the Big 12 becomes collateral damage.

Baylor’s Move

Texas, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma hold all of the cards.  The Big 12 is a pawn to be manuevered in the interest of the players.  Texas A&M has already shown its hand, so the drama shifts to Oklahoma.  Texas is revealing almost nothing and waiting for Oklahoma to play next.  Texas has the strongest hand, but can play it multiple ways.  They take in more revenue than anyone in college athletics, so that are in the best position to go independent and they are the biggest ripest fruit to be picked from a once proud always unstable conference.  If Baylor’s self-interest can align for Texas’ self-interests for a moment in time to hold the Big 12 together for one or two more seasons, then Texas will have plenty of time to let its plan — be it a move to the Pac 12, the Big 10, or a run at independence — play out completely.  We have seen that Baylor helping serve Texas’ interests now will not translate to any loyalty down the road.  Everyone is looking out for number one, which is the number one reason why the Big 12 is doomed.  Baylor cares little for rivalries, the Big 12, or anything but stalling the break up of the Big 12 long enough to align their ducks and find a new home in an automatic qualifier conference, likely the Big East.  Everything else is smokescreen.