How Texas A&M and the SEC proved to be a ‘excellent match’

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In 2011, when Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin introduced the Aggies had been departing the Large 12 for the SEC in what he referred to as a “100-year resolution,” the Aggies had been ridiculed, scorned and even threatened with authorized motion by Baylor president Ken Starr to dam their departure.Now, a decade later, after hanging out on their very own, the Aggies and the SEC match collectively like a Yell Chief and a pair of overalls, and, outdoors of Group of 5 faculties who crashed the Energy 5 get together like Utah and TCU, they appear to be the clear winners of realignment.The Aggies landed a major spot because the lone Texas faculty within the SEC, have reaped the monetary windfall, and A&M followers’ enthusiasm has allowed the varsity to pour cash into amenities and to be on the high of the meals chain in teaching salaries.The match has been so good, it is a marvel it took so lengthy to make it occur, particularly as a result of the Aggies have lengthy had their eye on heading Southeast. However in Texas, soccer and politics go hand in hand, and it took some exceptional developments for the Aggies to lastly fulfill their desires.Loftin, an A&M alum who had an opportunity to pilot his Aggies towards a brand new future, can look again on the previous decade with immense pleasure. Since changing into interim president in 2009, Loftin had been uncomfortable with the dearth of stability within the Large 12. He’d already felt unease with the Large 12 after attending his first assembly of the convention’s board in Dallas in 2009 when he was interim president.”That was kind of eye-opening,” he stated. “It was fairly clear how issues labored. One faculty was just about in control of how the convention was going to go. [Then-Big 12 commissioner Dan] Beebe was clearly beholden to that college. That gave me pause.”2 RelatedIn 2010, when it was clear that Texas was contemplating a transfer to the Pac-10, Loftin requested his counterpart, Texas president Invoice Powers, what was occurring. “I can not discuss that,” Loftin stated Powers informed him. “However don’t be concerned, we’ll maintain you.”To Loftin, it was one other degree of condescension from his rivals in Austin that the little ol’ Aggies did not deserve a say in their very own future.”I took that very personally,” Loftin stated.The SEC and A&M had lengthy had their eyes on one another from afar. Within the early 1990s, the Aggies’ head coach, R.C. Slocum, met with SEC commissioner Roy Kramer to gauge the league’s curiosity in Texas A&M ought to the Southwest Convention come undone. Each the SEC and the Aggies had been intrigued by the match.A number of the state’s greatest energy brokers, Gov. Ann Richards and Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, wished to keep away from a break up between the Aggies and the Longhorns to protect the rivalry. When the SWC formally died, the identical politicians threatened to chop off state funding to A&M and Texas in the event that they did not see to it that they may take Baylor and Texas Tech right into a merger with the Large Eight to type the Large 12.”R.C. was very a lot in the course of a really proactive dialog again within the ’90s because the Southwest Convention was falling aside,” Loftin stated. “At that time, it was fairly clear to folks like him that the SEC was the fitting place for us to be. However that wasn’t what the politicians wished.”The politicians once more referred to as the A&M and Texas presidents to the mat to keep away from one other break up in 2010, and the Large 12 held on by a thread, regardless of dropping Nebraska to the Large Ten and Colorado to the Pac-10. The Texas faculties had been requested to try to play good.However in 2011, all the pieces modified.”That is when an ideal factor occurred,” Loftin stated. “Texas introduced their partnership with ESPN to type the Longhorn Community.”After the 20-year, $300 million deal was introduced, the discussions that Loftin had been having with the board of regents about exploring the Aggies’ choices gained urgency. The Aggies all the time felt like Texas was solely excited about its personal profit and never what was greatest for the convention, however there was now a concrete instance with its personal particular person income stream outdoors of the league’s tv rights. All of the political opposition could not overcome the groundswell of assist Loftin instantly had.”When the LHN was introduced, that simply galvanized our former and present college students,” Loftin stated, saying there have been instantly fewer folks on the fence about breaking ranks and leaving the convention and splitting with the Longhorns. “We went from 50-50 to 95-5 [in favor of the SEC] nearly in a single day.”Ivan Maisel wrote on ESPN: “In spite of everything these years, Texas A&M let Texas get to it. Texas, which has received 4 nationwide championships for the reason that Aggies final received one. Texas, which has constructed a colossus of a program, full with its personal community. Texas, which has all the time seemed down its nostril at Texas A&M in the way in which that state universities all the time belittle the land-grant establishment. And now, Texas, which pushed and pushed to take a much bigger piece of the pie. Why? Largely as a result of it may, at the very least till it pushed too far.”Predicted to be chum for the SEC’s sharks, the Aggies are 77-37 in 9 seasons within the league regardless of arriving in the identical division throughout a historic dynasty run by Alabama.Whereas their 42-31 report in convention play is not stellar, the cash is pouring in and the items have began to fall into place since Jimbo Fisher’s arrival three years in the past. The Aggies are 26-10 and 17-Eight within the convention below Fisher, together with an 8-1 marketing campaign final yr that included a loss to Alabama and an Orange Bowl win over North Carolina. Their No. four end within the AP ballot was their highest end-of-season rating since 1939.By all accounts, the A&M soccer program is on an upswing, and nearly each purpose might be attributed to their new convention residence. Of their last six seasons within the Large 12, the Aggies’ highest-ranked recruiting class in ESPN’s database got here in at No. 16 in 2007, and in two seasons, they did not rank within the High 25. Fisher’s 2019 and 2020 recruiting courses ranked No. three and No. 6 and featured gamers plucked from nicely outdoors the Aggies’ regular turf in Texas and Louisiana. Fisher’s 2021 class ranked 16th within the ESPN rankings, however included gamers from Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, North Carolina, New York and even a blue-chip offensive lineman from Australia.Former A&M and Alabama coach Gene Stallings, who performed for Bear Bryant at A&M within the 1950s earlier than teaching the Tide to a nationwide championship in 1992, was on Texas A&M’s board of regents when Loftin initially explored the SEC transfer in 2010. Whereas he wasn’t there when the official transfer was made, he was an enormous supporter of the choice.”I felt like the perfect soccer convention within the nation was the SEC,” Stallings stated. “You win soccer video games with soccer gamers, you don’t need them with schemes. I simply felt it is gonna assist A&M in recruiting to be affiliated with the SEC extra so than it was within the different convention.”Johnny Manziel helped kick-start Texas A&M’s transfer to the SEC, successful the Heisman and beating Alabama in 2012. AP Picture/Dave MartinFormer Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin might be credited with kick-starting A&M’s transfer, utilizing the arm and legs of Johnny Manziel to upset Alabama and win him a Heisman Trophy en path to a No. 5 end in 2012. It was a shock to varsity soccer followers, who anticipated robust sledding for the newcomers. For A&M followers, it was a frenzy, they usually confirmed their enthusiasm with their wallets.That yr, between Sept. 1, 2012, and Aug. 31, 2013, the Aggies raised $740 million, greater than $300 million over their earlier report. It was essentially the most ever raised by a Texas college. That allowed Loftin and the 12th Man Basis, the varsity’s athletics fundraising arm, to press on with a aim they’d lengthy envisioned: a renovation of the varsity’s storied Kyle Area.”The magical season we had in ’12 was precisely the fitting context by which we may strategy main donors and make this occur,” Loftin stated. “We raised a quarter-billion {dollars} towards [Kyle Field] fairly shortly. That was a fairly superb deal. The fundraising engine actually acquired revved up fairly, fairly excessive.”The ultimate $484 million renovation wasn’t only a facelift: A number of elements of the stadium courting again to 1927 had been imploded and utterly rebuilt, modernizing lots of its facilities and including extra suites. However most significantly, it raised the stadium’s capability to 102,512, changing into the biggest stadium within the SEC. When tickets went on sale for the brand new venue, they offered out in 18 minutes.Athletic director Ross Bjork, who previously labored at Missouri from 1997 to 2003, stated he was regularly requested about A&M and the SEC when convention realignment was in full swing whereas he was athletic director at Western Michigan.”Wow, that is excellent,” he stated. “The explanation why is the dimensions and scale of the establishment, the flagship nature, the traditions, the fan assist. I imply that is, that is actually what the SEC is understood for. I got here to Kyle Area in 1998, 2000 and 2002 and noticed the eagerness, the dimensions and scale of Texas A&M and to me, there was actually no place prefer it within the Large 12.”Bjork stated from afar, it was clear that Texas A&M was critical about offering the assets to compete within the SEC.”Kyle Area is the prime instance of that,” he added. “Usually folks come and sort of retrofit, they add on items right here and there. A&M determined to tear down three sides of the stadium and construct, actually, a brand-new stadium. Not many establishments do it that means.”The brand new stadium, after all, led to different income pouring in. For the fiscal yr that led to August 2011, earlier than the convention transfer, the 12th Man Basis’s annual donations had been $20.6 million. For 2019-2020, the latest yr that numbers had been obtainable, that quantity greater than doubled to $44.5 million — 93% of which comes from donations that earn precedence privileges towards season-ticket purchases. In 2019, common attendance at Kyle Area was 101,608, which ranked first within the SEC and fourth within the nation. That yr, the Aggies offered greater than 50,000 season tickets, and college students purchased one other 34,476 sports activities passes for residence video games.The passion for the brand new traditions was tempered by the lack of a rivalry sport with the Longhorns after 118 conferences. Loftin spoke fondly of his first A&M-Texas sport as a freshman, and understood the lack of the sport was lower than preferrred.The SEC is made up largely of colleges like A&M: large state faculties, large stadiums, rabid soccer followers. The place preparations like Nebraska and the Large Ten nonetheless really feel strained, this marriage was a straightforward one. For example, LSU and A&M had performed 50 instances earlier than they had been ever in a convention collectively. Arkansas was a longtime SWC foe. For Aggies followers, swapping one rivalry for a number of new ones was nicely value it.”Each weekend now is sort of a bowl sport. … It is simply such a extra intense, great environment to go watch a soccer sport.”

Tim Wylie, Texas A&M alum

Tim Wylie, an A&M alum who works in actual property in Austin, attended each sport between the Aggies and the Longhorns from 1956 till their final sport in 2011. His 94-year-old dad, Roger, had been to each one since 1944. They miss the Texas rivalry, however have discovered the brand new schedules to be an appropriate tradeoff.”I believe we’re over that,” Tim Wylie stated. “Each weekend now is sort of a bowl sport. I imply, you go to Georgia, that is like going to a bowl sport. It is not like going to a Kansas sport the place there’s 30,000 folks. It is simply such a extra intense, great environment to go watch a soccer sport. I miss the Texas sport, however total, I believe A&M is in a greater place.”In accordance with the 12th Man Basis, Texas A&M has performed in 5 regular-season convention soccer video games within the SEC that had been watched by greater than seven million viewers. Over that very same span, the Large 12 had one sport complete that drew that many followers.”It is a bigger stage,” Stallings stated. “After they play a sport, wherever they play it, it is in an enormous stadium and it is a sellout.”Wylie added that extra away followers journey to Kyle Area now from larger SEC faculties and extra Aggies journey to away video games than they used to.”Placing it merely, there are much more bucket-list stadiums that you simply wish to go to in an SEC sport than there have been within the Large 12,” Wylie stated. “I imply who desires to go to Waco? Most individuals have been to Fort Price. No person desires to go to Kansas. However you recognize, we have been to LSU, we have been to Alabama. Nonetheless on the bucket listing is Tennessee or The Swamp [at Florida].”You will not discover any indicators of remorse amongst A&M followers. Perhaps they’re additionally simply completely satisfied to be away from one other previous foe and in control of their very own vacation spot.In Might, Fisher spoke to the Austin A&M membership and the query got here up — because it typically does — concerning the rival Longhorns and his opinions on how A&M ought to proceed with the rivalry.”Being within the SEC is much more prestigious and much more worthwhile,” Fisher stated to raucous applause. “Our league simply had 65 gamers drafted. They’d 22 in the entire league … I imply, we had greater than 22 first- and second-round draft picks. I respect them they usually acquired an ideal program. However pay attention, we’re gonna do what’s greatest for A&M.”The SEC transfer has definitely match that invoice for the Aggies.Prior to now 10 years, the college has accomplished the brand new Kyle Area and spent $24.three million to renovate its baseball stadium, Olsen Area at Blue Bell Park. In 2019, it opened Davis Diamond, a brand new $28.6 million softball advanced and E.B. Cushing Stadium, a $39.Eight million monitor facility.”The assets we have been in a position to garner from being within the SEC have made a big effect on A&M,” Loftin stated. “Now we have numerous new amenities right here, numerous nice ones. I believe we’ll hopefully get tennis [facilities] completed quickly. That is the final one to get completed by way of some main enhancements. That would not have been achievable within the timeframe we’re speaking about had we stayed within the Large 12.”Fisher stated when A&M employed him that he “grew up within the SEC” and knew what it took to win within the league. The varsity famously gave him a 10-year, $75 million assured contract to pry him away from Florida State. His assistant coach salaries additionally complete about $7.5 million yearly, rating solely behind Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson in assistant pay. It was a statement-hire and dedication.Perhaps the transfer impressed the Aggies to lastly go all-in on chasing greatness. Every thing is coming collectively on the proper time to problem for an SEC championship. The Aggies are pondering large.”I believe that [Fisher] has completed a very good job, and this yr goes to be an awfully necessary yr for A&M,” Stallings stated. “They’ve recruited extraordinarily nicely they usually’ve acquired a tricky schedule. And if they may simply beat Alabama — they’d an ideal yr final yr but when they beat Alabama they’d have an opportunity to win the nationwide championship — I simply inform you, it could be an excellent accomplishment.”For Bjork, who beforehand was athletic director at Ole Miss, it is satisfying to see Texas A&M changing into an element within the SEC after many years of being unable to make the leap when it wished to.”I may see what was being stirred up within the late ’80s, early ’90s,” Bjork stated. “Perhaps it simply took slightly longer to get there, perhaps it took some drama alongside the way in which, however it lastly occurred. It has been a no brainer, a house run, no matter adjective you wish to describe. It has been an ideal match.”

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