By Parrish Alford and Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
As the college football landscape continues to shift, Mississippi’s two SEC schools say it’s important to note that their league didn’t push the snowball down the hill.
The SEC announced Wednesday that its presidents voted unanimously to accept Texas A&M as the league’s 13th member, acceptance conditional upon the Big 12 Conference members reaffirming their statement that no legal action is forthcoming.
But legal action might be forthcoming.
In a Sept. 2 letter to SEC commissioner Mike Slive, Big 12 commissioner Don Beebe said his league’s board of directors unanimously authorized him to “convey to you and their colleagues in the Southeastern Conference that the Big 12 and its members will not take any legal action for any possible claims against the SEC or its members relating to the departure of Texas A&M …”
According to MSU president Mark Keenum, shortly after the SEC’s presidents voted Tuesday night to invite Texas A&M, word came to commissioner Mike Slive that Baylor was considering litigation to block the move. Then on Wednesday, the Des Moines Register reported that Iowa State had not waived its right to sue either the SEC or Texas A&M, and several other Big 12 schools appear to be positioning themselves thusly.
It was a “frustrating” development, according to Keenum, who added that the presidents were not given a specific reason for Baylor’s 180.
“We don’t need this thing tying up the courts for years to come,” Keenum said. “As we’ve said all along, we’re not going to entertain any school joining the SEC until they have gotten themselves free and clear legally from any conference they may be associated with.”
Keenum and Ole Miss chancellor Dan Jones both denied reports that the vote to accept Texas A&M was 10-2 – less than unanimous – with Jones saying some confusion may have arisen by the fact that two presidents were unable to attend the meeting.
Jones said SEC presidents are “certainly united,” and Keenum said, “Everyone’s in favor of bringing Texas A&M to the SEC.”
Added Jones, “If we’re able to complete this arrangement, we’ll be adding a strong university. They bring added value with a long and storied history of athletic traditions and success. They will fit with the SEC in every way.”
Some observers feel the A&M-SEC marriage could start the dominoes falling toward 16-team “super conferences,” but Jones and Keenum both said the SEC didn’t seek the Aggies and is not seeking a 14th team at this time.
“I don’t see any time frame for it,” Jones said. “Everyone recognizes that an uneven number of schools presents some awkwardness and challenges. Because of that, there may be conversations about a 14th school, but there are not any plans for a 14th school, not any concrete plans. We’ve said over and over again, the SEC is not out seeking members, but is receptive to schools who want to make application and are unfettered by other arrangements.”
So the SEC is looking at having an unbalanced conference for the time being.
“All I can tell you is the commissioner says if we’re at 13, it’s going to be complicated, but we’re going to make it work somehow,” Keenum said.
The addition of Texas A&M gives the conference a foothold in lucrative television markets in Dallas and Houston.
Further expansion would enhance the SEC’s network résumé. Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone stopped short of calling for restructured SEC deals with ESPN and CBS but noted that “something will have to change.”
The SEC is currently under contract through 2023-2024 with ESPN-ABC and CBS.
MSU football coach Dan Mullen said he’s not worried about the conference becoming too big.
“I’m sure the SEC was really good before it went to 12 teams, and we’re still good at 12 teams,” he said. “I’m sure with the leadership we have in place we’ll make good decisions to continue to make us the best conference in the country.”
The big attraction to conference membership is revenue sharing, and SEC presidents didn’t vote to accept a smaller piece of the pie.
“One of the tenets the presidents talked about a year or year and a half ago was that no member (through expansion) would receive any less revenue from the current sources,” Boone said. “We’ll have to have more revenue coming in if we add a 13th team, then more if we add a 14th team.”