Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe told the American-Statesman Wednesday night that he is aware of reports that Texas A&M is in the middle of conversations about joining the Southeastern Conference and is "taking it very seriously."
Beebe helped hold the league together just more than a year ago after Nebraska and Colorado left the Big 12 and joined the Big Ten and Pac-12 leagues, respectively, and said he has "confidence that we'll work out whatever the issues are and go forward."
Beebe has not been in contact with any Texas A&M administration members, including president R. Bowen Loftin, who released a statement on Wednesday that read: "President (R. Bowen) Loftin is committed to doing what is best for Texas A&M not only now, but also in the future. We continue to have wide-ranging conversations regarding all aspects of the university, including both academics and athletics."
One high-ranking Big 12 school official said Wednesday night, "If A&M has a chance, I think they'll go for it. Loftin sure didn't stop it (rumors)."
At the basis of the new unrest of A&M and other Big 12 members appears to be growing, conference-wide acrimony toward Texas' powerful relationship with ESPN and the formation of the hugely profitable Longhorn Network later this month, which may be pushing the Aggies toward joining the SEC. A&M flirted with that league last summer before remaining with Texas and eight other schools in the newly configured, 10-member Big 12. Texas, too, considered joining the Pac-10 along with Texas Tech, A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado.
Beebe just returned home to Dallas from a retreat in Indianapolis, where 56 college presidents and commissioners discussed the possibility of sweeping changes for the way the NCAA conducts business in dealing with student-athletes.
While there, he discussed the Aggies situation with Texas president William Powers, who was also at the NCAA summit.
"I've been doing that and dealing with this firestorm at the same time," Beebe said. "I'll put it this way, I'm taking it very seriously. I've been talking to a number of people. Obviously, there are a significant number of Aggie supporters who are interested in going in that (SEC) direction.
"There's a huge risk if an institution leaves its geographic proximity and rivalries. In the long run, it can create a lot of problems."
The Big 12 school official told the Statesman he had heard that the Big 12, to survive in the event of A&M's departure, would consider inviting Notre Dame and Arkansas to join, but he admitted those schools were unlikely to be interested.
Other possibilities, the source said, include Houston, Louisville, Brigham Young and Air Force. He saw TCU — which joins the Big East next year — as an unlikely school to approach.
"I don't know if this could go down in a month or a year or in weeks," the source said. "But it's taken on a life of its own. I would just tell A&M to be careful what you wish for."
Beebe declined to discuss any scenarios involving the Big 12 if A&M were to leave.
He added that A&M would be subject to the same exit fees for leaving the conference — using a formula based on league revenue distribution — as were Nebraska and Colorado.
"You always have to think about all the possibilities," he said of any schools that could be invited if necessary. "Twelve was always the maximum number of teams that were desired, but that's as far as I can go publicly."
The talk of A&M's secession caught many by surprise, especially since the league represented a front of solidarity after the school athletic directors met a week ago and voted unanimously to put a one-year moratorium on the Longhorn Network broadcasting high school football games. The network, which pays Texas $300 million over 20 years, is set to debut Aug. 26.
"We had a tremendous meeting with the athletic directors," Beebe said. "My view was everybody was comfortable with it."
Even Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the growing discussions involving A&M's possible exit and told The Dallas Morning News he was aware of the conversations before deferring all further comments to the Aggie decision-makers.
"I'll be real honest with you," Perry said. "I just read about it the same time as y'all did. ... As far as I know, conversations are being had. That's frankly all I know. I just refer you to the university and the decision makers over there."