Texas A&M's move to SEC held up by legal threat

By John Zenor

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 8 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Texas A&M and the Southeastern Conference have a roadblock standing in the way of their anticipated union: Baylor.

After SEC presidents and chancellors unanimously embraced adding the Aggies to the 12-member league, it turns out there was no such unanimity in the embattled Big 12 conference.

Baylor is considering suing if Texas A&M leaves and Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe said in an e-mail obtained by The Associated Press that the SEC must get waivers from each institution in his conference.

The SEC doesn't want any part of a court battle over the Aggies.

The legal infighting "has derailed SEC expansion for the moment," said LSU Chancellor Mike Martin

"Clearly there is instability and a bit of chaos within the Big 12, which we hope will be resolved for the sake of Texas A&M and, indeed, for all of college sports," Martin said.

Beebe said he "regrets" the confusion, but he's also fighting to keep the Big 12 from unraveling.

He said it is unprecedented for a school and rival conference to ask for a waiver preventing suit for damages sustained because of realignment.

And though the Big 12 Board of Directors agreed on Sept. 2 to waive any legal action from the league or its members if Texas A&M leaves, Beebe said Wednesday that "the waiver did not and could not bind the individual member institutions' governing boards to waive institutional rights."

"If the departure of Texas A&M results in significant changes in the Big 12 membership, several institutions may be severely affected after counting on revenue streams from contracts that were approved unanimously by our members, including Texas A&M," Beebe said in a statement. "In some cases, members reasonably relied on such approval to embark on obligations that will cost millions of dollars."

Mississippi Chancellor Dr. Dan Jones said Texas A&M and the Big 12 must resolve their problems before the SEC can move forward. If and when the legal issues are resolved, the SEC will make the Aggies the league's 13th team to complete a courtship Texas A&M initiated in July. It could lead to a massive realignment of the college football landscape and maybe a significant push toward 16-team super conferences.

The 12 presidents and chancellors all voted Tuesday in favor of making the SEC the first BCS conference with more than a dozen members.

Then the deal hit a snag with Baylor's resistance.

"The SEC has stated that to consider an institution for membership, there must be no contractual hindrances to its departure," said Florida President Bernie Machen, chairman of the SEC leaders.

SEC spokesman Charles Bloom declined further comment on Wednesday.

Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement the Aggies "are disappointed in the threats made by one of the Big 12 member institutions to coerce Texas A&M into staying in Big 12."

Jones said the SEC is not willing to get into a domestic dispute between Texas A&M and the Big 12.

"We've been clear that we'd be happy to receive them if they're unfettered of obligations," he said. "We gathered to have a vote. We had a letter that clearly gave us legal clearance. It was frustrating to be gathered and then have things pulled out from under Texas A&M like that. We're disappointed for Texas A&M."

Texas A&M has made it clear it wants a higher profile and more revenue and that the Aggies are unhappy with the creation of the Longhorn Network at rival Texas. And the SEC would also reap additional revenue and extended visibility as a result of a move into the state of Texas.

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