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Texas A&M plans to leave Big 12 by July 2012

By Kristie Rieken

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 31 2011 4:11 p.m. MDT

So far, the only school to publicly express interest in joining the Big 12 is SMU, the former Southwest Conference team that now plays in Conference USA and has climbed back to respectability after receiving the NCAA's only "death penalty" punishment after a pay-for-play scandal in the 1980s.

Another Conference USA team, Houston, could also be an option for the Big 12. Athletic director Mack Rhoades would not say Wednesday if he has been in touch with the Big 12 or any other conference.

"We're always going to look to get better, and look for opportunity," Rhoades said. "Whether that comes, whether that doesn't, I certainly can't answer that. But we're in a great conference right now, and we're going to continue to be a great member. But we're also going to do everything we can to get better."

Rhoades said he believes A&M's decision could be the first domino in changes across the landscape of college football.

"Right now, let's face it, that's the world of college athletics," he said. "Whatever happens here in the next week, two weeks, three months, who knows what the timeline is? I don't think it ends there. I think it's going to continue to evolve over the next few years."

The Big 12 has formed a committee to look for replacements.

"The chancellors and presidents of the Big 12 are committed to keeping our conference competitively and academically strong," said Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton, who serves as the chairman of the Big 12 board of directors. "We have a process in place that enables us to move aggressively regarding the possible expansion of the conference and to assure our members and student-athletes that we will take advantage of the most productive opportunities in the best interests of all."

The SEC said earlier this month it was happy with its current membership but left the door open to expansion, and the Aggies certainly wouldn't have made this move if they didn't believe they could eventually join the conference. The Aggies would need the votes of nine of the 12 presidents from the member schools for the SEC to allow them into the league.

The Big 12 agreed to a 13-year television deal with Fox Sports in April worth more than $1 billion, a contract that technically could be voided with Texas A&M's departure and lead to legal issues for the Aggies.

A person familiar with that TV deal told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the league has indications from the network that if a suitable replacement can be found that "they will be fine and keep the contract as is." The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because the details are not supposed to be public, also said that the contract could remain in force at a discounted rate even if the Big 12 had only its remaining nine teams.

The Aggies will also likely face an exit fee for leaving the Big 12, although it's unclear how much that could be. Nebraska paid $9.25 million and Colorado paid $6.9 million.

Texas state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said she had no plans to call for a public hearing on the Aggies' decision to leave. Zaffirini, who graduated from Texas, said she would be disappointed if the two schools end their football rivalry.

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AP Sports Writers Chris Duncan, Stephen Hawkins, Jim Vertuno and John Zenor contributed to this report.

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