Matt Strasen, Associated Press
HOUSTON — The official Texas A&M fight song includes a line that bids farewell to Texas, "so long to the orange and white." By this time next year, Texas A&M may have said goodbye to a lot more than its storied, century-old rivalry with Texas.
Texas A&M announced Wednesday that it will leave the Big 12 Conference by July 2012 if it can find another home, preferably in the SEC.
The decision could set off another round of conference realignment in college sports and it raises questions about the future of the Big 12, which is starting the football season with 10 teams after losing Nebraska and Colorado. The Big 12 said it would move quickly to find at least one replacement for the Aggies but offered no timeline.
"The presidents and chancellors of the nine remaining member institutions are steadfast in their commitment to the Big 12," Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe said in a statement. "As previously stated, the conference will move forward aggressively exploring its membership options."
The Southeastern Conference said it had not received an application from Texas A&M to join the league and that it would have no further comment. The SEC has reaffirmed its 12-school membership, but remains open to expansion talks.
Leaving the Big 12 "is in the best interest of Texas A&M," said university President R. Bowen Loftin, who formally notified the league with a letter after earlier securing details on the withdrawal process. He said he hopes the move can be amicable and presumably hopes to negotiate a reasonable exit fee.
"We are seeking to generate greater visibility nationwide for Texas A&M and our championship-caliber student-athletes, as well as secure the necessary and stable financial resources to support our athletic and academic programs," Loftin said. "This is a 100-year decision that we have addressed carefully and methodically."
Texas A&M, which has been in the Big 12 since its founding in 1996, said it will submit an application to join another, unspecified conference. If accepted, Texas A&M will leave the Big 12, effective June 30, 2012.
Texas, blamed by some for running off Nebraska with its deal with ESPN to set up its Longhorns Network, said it remains committed to the Big 12 even with its historic rivalry with Texas A&M in jeopardy. But Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds didn't address the game or even A&M by name.
"As we stated last summer, we are strong supporters and members of the Big 12 conference," Dodds said. "Recent events have not altered our confidence in the league. A Big 12 committee is in place to look at all options, shaping the future of the conference so it will continue to be one of the top leagues in the country."
Texas and Texas A&M first met in football in 1894 and the annual Thanksgiving game is a highlight of the season for many fans. Loftin said that a "primary criterion" when negotiating with another conference would be the ability to continue the rivalry, but there's no guarantee the new conference or the Longhorns would agree to such a deal.
Like Texas, Baylor has been in the same league with Texas A&M since the beginning of the Southwest Conference in 1914. With no push by Texas A&M to continue playing the Bears, they were disappointed that their football rivalry, which began in 1899, will end.
Baylor President Ken Starr still believes the Big 12 has a "bright future," even without the Aggies.
"We know that the Big 12 is an exciting and attractive conference for many reasons, including the quality of our academic programs, the strength of our athletic teams, the support of our loyal fans and the depth of our vibrant traditions," Starr said.
Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) left the league in July a year after a wild round of realignment that also affected teams in the Mountain West, Big East and WAC.
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