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What is Texas A&M Thinking?

There appears to be well more than enough smoke to believe that Texas A&M may seriously seek an invitation from the SEC (there's still no real proof at this point that the SEC is or is not looking at Texas A&M), thereby separating from Texas, OU, Tech and Okie State, as early as next week. This post is not meant as a flame, so if you want to treat it as such please go join one of the myriad of other realignment posts on the site right now. What we'd like to do is gather the community's thoughts on the psychological reasons for why Texas A&M's leadership would make such a choice (also read flamingmonkey's excellent fanpost here on the subject, which this post is not meant to usurp but apparently was written simultaneously, and brings up the additional excellent point that it can't just be "we'll recruit better").

The price of a defection is obvious: near total separation from the school through which much of Texas A&M's identity is defined. Don't dare try to refute it, just take a look at their fight song. Texas Fight mentions A&M once, the Aggie War Hymn is entirely about Texas. Sure, Texas and A&M could continue their nonconference rivalry on Thanksgiving, but at least in football it seems extremely unlikely for a couple of reasons. First and foremost there won't be time for Texas to play A&M. The new Pac-16 conference will almost certainly have nine conference games a year (seven in the division and two from the other division), leaving just three nonconference slots available. Would Texas risk playing just two nonconference warm up games and leave a third meaningless game just a week before the conference title game? It could be moved to September, but what luster will that have beyond say Texas-Arkansas these days? We think A&M to the SEC logistically kills Texas-Texas A&M.

Second, there is the cold shoulder likely to be extended by all four of the Big XII teams heading out west. The Aggies heading to the SEC is not going to generate any love between any of the schools. For over a century we've coexisted. They may be weird, we may be uppity and arrogant, but when the schools have needed one another they have come through. Without an athletics tie-in, we'll become two very different schools 90-minutes apart. Texas, Texas A&M and Tech stuck together from the SWC to the Big XII, and OU and Okie State were committed to staying together to whatever comes next. A&M defecting makes them more or less Arkansas.

A&M's decision-makers surely know the price of doing business with the SEC, and they appear willing to at least seriously consider paying that price. What we're struggling to figure out, and what may be impossible to know right now, is why they wouldn't want to go with Texas, OU, Okie State and Tech. To begin with, let's take out two reasons that we just aren't buying: academics and money. The Pac-10 may be slightly superior academically to the SEC but we'll concede that the difference isn't necessarily big enough to prevent a school such as Texas A&M from joining. And assuming the Pac-16 gets a television deal in 2012 relative to what the SEC and Big Ten have accomplished in recent years (and there's no reason to believe they won't), one must concede that the financial gains of going to the Pac-16 vice SEC are pretty negligible over the long term. Plus, it's not like Texas leading the country in athletics earnings is making poor financial decisions.

As far as we can determine, there seem to be three four rationales for why A&M is pursuing this option.

  1. They're uncomfortable with the Pac-10's more liberal culture and feel more comfortable in the deep south. This reason actually makes a lot of sense to us. The Big XII was full of schools that made A&M look and feel relatively normal. Can you imagine the culture shock Texas A&M may face during that first trip to Berkley to play Cal? These people have trouble dealing with Austin's hippie culture. Throw in the geographic issues involved and the comfort of southern living isn't such a bad choice.
  2. They like being courted. Go read Texags or any SEC message board with Aggies all over the place -- actually, just take our word for it. Their fans, at least those that own a computer, clearly want to go to the SEC. They're loving being the center of attention for the first time since...? It isn't hard to imagine that the A&M athletics leadership, having been in Texas' shadow for much of the last decade, is enjoying the limelight as well. These people haven't exactly led Aggies athletics to the promised land over the last few years and it's entirely logical to believe that simply getting attention from an elite conference is propelling them to seriously consider this option. 
  3. They're tired of being associated with Texas. This one is kind of hard to understand considering how badly they want to beat Texas, but maybe they're tired of feeling like that. Of course the SEC is an incredibly difficult football conference, and leaving Texas to go to the SEC seems like going from the frying pan to the fire. To put it in perspective, Arkansas and Georgia went a combined 7-9 in the SEC last season, they were run-of-the-mill SEC teams. Texas A&M played both last year and lost by a combined 91-39. But perhaps they realize that the Pac-16 will be like the last ten years, with Texas winning a national title and going to three BCS games while A&M either stayed home or got embarrassed.
  4. They aren't thinking. We aren't saying this is true or that A&M's leadership are a bunch of morons, rather this psychological theory suggests A&M's leadership is not considering any of the consequences. Paraphrasing a quote from Woodward and Bernstein's All the President's Men, perhaps we shouldn't overestimate these guys' foresight because "these aren't smart men." They don't have a long term plan, they're just enthralled by the once-in-a-lifetime chance to get a brand new shiny toy. Certainly a plausible option, although difficult to imagine given how closely these discussion appear to have been coordinated amongst A&M, Texas, Tech, OU and Okie State.

In the end, we make the choices we make with no idea how they will turn out. A move to the SEC could be the best thing to ever happen to Texas A&M, or they could just be a Mississippi State redux (they've already got the uniforms down). The answer to why they're at least considering the move could be any or all of these points; it could be an incredible miscalculation or a great move. The amazing thing about the last two weeks is how historic the choices being made have been and how quickly they have been made. We'll know soon enough whether Texas A&M goes with the status quo or takes the leap.