It's official -- almost. An anticipated rubber-stamp vote by Southeastern Conference presidents to accept Texas A&M as a member turned into conditional approval late Tuesday night when word surfaced of possible legal action by a Big 12 school.
In a statement released Wednesday morning, the league said it unanimously approved A&M's application but under the condition that the remaining Big 12 schools offer no roadblocks to the Aggies departure.
The SEC release said it was assured in a Sept. 2 letter that all Big 12 schools condoned the A&M move. But then on Tuesday, the SEC said it found out one Big 12 school had withdrawn its approval, leaving the SEC to say the Aggies would be approved "upon receiving acceptable reconfirmation that the Big 12 and its members have reaffirmed the letter dated September 2, 2011."
The SEC did not name the school. The Dallas Morning News reported that Big 12 member Baylor was considering some sort of legal action. A person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to USA TODAY that Baylor was the school. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The statement from Florida president Dr. Bernie Machen, chair of the SEC's presidents and chancellors:
"After receiving unanimous written assurance from the Big 12 on September 2 that the Southeastern Conference was free to accept Texas A&M to join as a new member, the presidents and chancellors of the SEC met last night with the intention of accepting the application of Texas A&M to be the newest member of the SEC. We were notified yesterday afternoon that at least one Big 12 institution had withdrawn its previous consent and was considering legal action. 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, 2011."
The announcement keeps a three-month chapter alive in the ongoing drama of major conference realignment. And there could be more to come. Assuming the A&M situation is settled, it would give the SEC 13 teams and an unbalance in its two-division format. It would seem the league would add a 14th at some point. So far, the league has said it is in no hurry on further expansion. Schools in the region who would seem attractive choices, like Clemson and Virginia Tech, have insisted they are staying in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Florida State, another ACC member, has only said it is happy in the league and has had no talks with the SEC.
Missouri has been mentioned as a possible addition. It would give Arkansas a relatively close opponent and allow the SEC to expand into the Kansas City and St. Louis markets, much like A&M takes the league into the talent-rich state of Texas. But so far Missouri has said it would remain in the Big 12. The other question, though, is whether the Big 12 will survive. Oklahoma president David Boren said last week the school will soon decide if it will leave, likely for the Pac-12, and Oklahoma State would be expected to follow.
A&M has been a member of the Big 12 since it combined members of the Southwest and Big Eight conferences in the mid-1990s. Last year, Nebraska and Colorado left. A&M's departure leaves the league with nine teams.The Salt Lake Tribune reported last week that Big 12 officials have talked with Brigham Young, which is playing this year as an independent in football with other sports in the West Coast Conference.