The Trouble With Aggies

Things remained relatively quiet for a year after the Big 12 was rescued in the eleventh hour, but as the kick off to the 2011 season draws near -- and, with it, the launch of the new Longhorn Network -- the lesser stars in this drama are once again beginning to grumble about their place on this totem pole.

Most vocally (and comically), of course, are the Aggies, who are lighting up boards and blogs with renewed commitment to establishing their persecuted status. As Aggies see it, Texas now has all of ESPN in its back pocket, and every day that Texas A&M remains in its present position is acquiescence to second-class citizen status.

In lieu of rational analysis in evaluating both Texas and their own status in the Big 12 conference, the Aggies continue to do what they do best -- play the victim:

If texas continues acting as a conference of one, acting in their own best interests instead of in the best interests of the conference as a whole, I have no problem believing A&M will act in their own best interests, and leave the 10-team Big 12 behind. I think the whole perception issue of "which team acted to blow up the Big 12" is really overblown, and A&M's leadership won't have a problem lighting the fuse if texas continues on their current path.

What, exactly, is the basis for the above-stated proposition? None is offered; as far as I can tell because Aggies consider the conclusion to be self-evident. The only way to make sense of that viewpoint, really, is to view the situation through the prism of "A&M as UT's victim," a mindset Aggies willfully spotlight themselves via the dull and childish cut-downs ubiquitous in the Aggie lexicon: "texas, not Texas."  "tu, not UT."  And -- dagger! -- "t-sips, to remind them just who is more prone to the repulsive sin of sophistication."  It would be mystifying that such gimmicks could survive so many years if it were not part and parcel with the broader Aggie mindset, in which their own identity is forever defined by their rival.  Texas A&M stands as much for 'Not Texas' (or 'Not texas,' as it were) as it does for itself.  

That mindset is what can make it difficult to decide if Aggies are willfully ignorant, or simply stumbling through a fog.  Whatever the case, it is most confusing (albeit endlessly amusing) to listen to Aggies try to navigate the complex realities of the world of modern college athletics, hamstrung as they are by the requirements of ideological purity.  To be an Aggie is to accept unequivocally a certain set of ideas -- however fantastical they may be -- as facts, a mindset which leads not only to the relatively harmless idiosyncrasies like 'texas' and 'tu,' but also to the much more consequential mode of thinking that precludes useful, tracking-the-real-world analysis.

It's problematic because you wind up with an awful lot of fans who are incapable of engaging an idea on its actual terms, when doing so requires accepting premises that are antithetical to the core ideology -- namely, "texas is the bad guy. tu is at fault. The sips are just trying to keep us down."  Even if it's possible that's the case, it shouldn't be accepted as gospel, let alone that which most defines you. 

Ultimately, that's why it's useless to listen to so many Aggie fans themselves on these topics: whatever extent their vantage point overlaps with reality at any given moment is purely accidental.  All too many Aggies continue to evaluate their situation through the prism of the victimized fan, as evidenced by the solutions they offer, which revolve around escaping or bringing harm to UT tu.  As much bravado as Aggies convey, it is ironic that so many want to win by taking their ball and going home.

A More Rational Analysis

This is going to feel dirty, but let's do their dirty work for them and pivot from Aggie delusion to the rational discourse I'm mystified they aren't interested in engaging.  Cock your whoop rifles high and imagine that you are a Texas A&M fan.

What's the proper mode of analysis here?  First and foremost, it is to approach the problem unencumbered by a persecution complex.  Yes, Texas is to be hated as the prime rival, and yes, Texas's advantages are to be bemoaned and factored in to our analysis.  But no crying about it -- and specifically, no letting our displeasure with being second fiddle prevent us from performing a real analysis about us, our situation, and what's best for us.

Is it possible to conclude that a move to the SEC is in our best interest?  It's not impossible, but to the extent the case is based on escaping or punishing Texas, it is a failure.  That's what many real Aggies do, but here we're interested in figuring out what's in fact in the best interest of A&M athletics.  In that light, a move to the SEC is risky at best, and it's very difficult to escape the conclusion that it's not simply a move to make against Texas rather than a move to help ourselves.  When you really think it through, it's just incredibly difficult to see how it would be more advantageous for A&M to compete in the deepest and best football conference in the country, rather than one that is eminently conquerable.  And especially when rising to the top of the Big 12 also means -- by definition -- bettering Texas. 

Perhaps the risk could be justified if there were clear financial advantages to A&M, but here, too, pesky reality gets in the way. While Aggies would certainly have incentive to bolt for greener pastures if staying in the Big 12 meant giving up big chunks of money while Texas just got richer, in reality the present situation in the Big 12 is a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats situation. Texas is getting richer either way, so the question is really whether A&M gains anything by leaving.  In fact, the money is more than fine for A&M right now, and they are a potentially pretty-big fish in a small pond (Big 12) rather than a small fish in a shark-infested sea (SEC).  Leaving Texas behind would not harm Texas, but easily could harm A&M, and only makes sense if your worldview is that doing something to spite Texas is -- ipso facto -- a worthy objective.

Continuing our make-believe as Aggies interested in reality and rational analysis, let's instead consider the possibility that Texas's prominence -- however despicable, being as they are our rivals -- is in many ways a boon to A&M.  Kansas definitely considers the Big 12 rescue project a boon (disaster averted!), but even though A&M would have had options that Kansas would not, it does not follow that this new Big 12 arrangement is inferior to those other options.  Let's consider, instead, that keeping the SEC out of Texas, and our position in the richest (financial and talent) football state in the country -- even if not quite as strong as that of hated UT -- is potentially a source of tremendous benefit.  It is beneficial to A&M in recruiting, it is (if we play our cards right) beneficial to A&M financially, and it is beneficial to A&M from a competitive landscape perspective.  All A&M has to do is beat Texas on the field. 

After all, should Aggies really care if Texas is stuffing its coffers with cash without winning the conference?  What's really the goal here?  If the goal is to 'out-Texas' the University of Texas, we're setting ourselves up to fail, no matter what we do.  If, instead, we simply want to best them in athletics, well, maybe we ought to evaluate our options in a different light. Hell, if we can be a strong No. 2 in the state of Texas, while competing in a diluted Big 12, and while making sufficient money to be a nationally relevant football program, isn't that just about ideal?  I mean, short or being the No. 1 most advantaged program in Texas? 

Ending our little role playing experiment, are you as mystified as I am that Aggies seem incapable of even considering this conclusion?  And more troubling, that there isn't at least a minority counterculture that peddles in reality?  For a fan base so rabidly obsessed with school spirit, how dispiriting is that?  It sort of makes you wonder if A&M is destined to cut off its nose to spite its face. 

There are lots of amusing -- mostly harmless and irrelevant -- ways to poke fun of Aggies and celebrate the ways that our own culture is different from theirs, but it's that prideful embrace of perverted reality amongst Aggies that I find so depressing, and which continually makes me wonder how such otherwise intelligent people can willfully embrace such an unsatisfying, often counter-productive, culture. 

If an Aggie needs to imagine me typing that while sipping tea and daintily nibbling a biscuit, ultimately that's their problem, isn't it?

And that's really the biggest problem that Texas A&M faces: themselves.

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