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Texas A&M set to join SEC, move held up by legal threat

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Southeastern Conference announced
Wednesday that it will make Texas A&M the 13th team in the league
but said the move is on hold because a Big 12 school has threatened
legal action if the Aggies leave.
The SEC, which would become the first BCS conference with more
than 12 members, said it received "unanimous written assurance"
from the Big 12 on Sept. 2 that it was free to accept Texas A&M.
The presidents and chancellors met late Tuesday "with the
intention of accepting the application of Texas A&M to be the
newest member of the SEC. "
Then the deal hit a snag.
"We were notified yesterday afternoon that at least one Big 12
institution had withdrawn its previous consent and was considering
legal action," said Florida President Bernie Machen, chairman of
the SEC leaders. "The SEC has stated that to consider an
institution for membership, there must be no contractual hindrances
to its departure. The SEC voted unanimously to accept Texas A&M
University as a member upon receiving acceptable reconfirmation
that the Big 12 and its members have reaffirmed the letter dated
September 2."
It was not immediately known which Big 12 school had raised the
legal issues. The Big 12 did not return a message left seeking
comment.
In the Sept. 2 letter, released by the SEC, Big 12 Commissioner
Dan Beebe told SEC Commissioner Mike Slive that there were no legal
hurdles to the SEC accepting Texas A&M, as long as it happened by
Thursday afternoon.
"We both agreed it is in the best interests of each of our
conferences and our member institutions of higher education to
waive any and all legal actions by either conference and its
members resulting from admission of Texas A&M into the SEC, as long
as such admission is confirmed publicly by September 8, 2011,"
Beebe wrote.
However, despite the letter, Slive was informed more than once
before the SEC vote Tuesday night that "maybe more than one" of
the other nine Big 12 members were considering legal options
against a possible Texas A&M move, according to a person familiar
with the situation.
"(The SEC) thought it was clear and free without any possible
issues. That is not what happened," said the person, who spoke on
condition of anonymity because of the private nature of those
discussions.
The Sept. 2 letter was not intended to waive the rights of
individual schools to sue and that decisions like that need
approval from various boards of regents and other university
overseers, the person said.
"That certainly is not going to happen soon. You are not going
to get all nine. You might get some," that person told the AP.
"Very few, if any, are willing with the uncertainty and
instability of the Big 12 at this point to release their claims."
Texas Tech president Guy Bailey in a text message confirmed that
the university's board of regents would have to waive the school's
right to pursue legal action. He also said Big 12 members were
planning a conference call later Wednesday.
Texas A&M officials were disappointed.
"We are certainly pleased with the action taken last night by
the presidents and chancellors of the Southeastern Conference to
unanimously accept Texas A&M," President R. Bowen Loftin said in a
statement. "However, this acceptance is conditional, and we are
disappointed in the threats made by one of the Big 12 member
institutions to coerce Texas A&M into staying in Big 12. ... These
actions go against the commitment that was made by this university
and the Big 12 on Sept. 2. We are working diligently to resolve any
and all issues as outlined by the SEC."
Texas A&M announced last week that it planned to leave the Big
12 by July 2012 if invited to join another league. The Aggies had
been unhappy with the creation of the Longhorn Network at rival
Texas and have made it clear they want a higher profile and more
revenue.
The Aggies' intentions sparked more talk of conference
realignment stretching across the country.
The Big 12 has already lost Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado
(Pac-12). Oklahoma president David Boren said last week that
multiple conferences have expressed interest in the Sooners and he
expects a decision within a few weeks. Oklahoma State billionaire
booster Boone Pickens also said he doesn't think the Big 12 will
survive much longer and predicted the Cowboys will eventually join
the Pac-12.
It might not be over for the SEC, either, if the league that has
won the last five BCS championships in football decides to add a
14th team or even expand to a 16-team superconference. Texas A&M's
move would help give the SEC a presence in the major Texas TV
markets.
Not to mention a fertile recruiting ground.
"I certainly understand adding a Texas team into the
conference," LSU coach Les Miles said Wednesday. "A&M has a great
historic following and is a traditional power that certainly brings
the interest of Texas."
Plus, he added: "Texas football is great high school football
... The dynamics are significant."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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