And they are off. While the Big 12 and Texas A&M took no action on conference realignment, a source has told the AP that the Aggies are all but gone:
"Big 12 officials expect Texas A&M to announce within the next week that it plans to leave the conference.
A person with knowledge of what was discussed during a conference call of the Big 12 board of directors Saturday told The Associated Press that Texas A&M officials talked about their anticipated departure.
"No major surprises," said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks. "A&M didn't say they were leaving, but certainly gave every indication that's what they plan on doing."
This really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, as the Aggies have made it not-so-publicly known that they wanted out of the Big 12 for several weeks now. But the divorce seems to be all but finalized, with a move coming possibly as early as this week.
"I think the Aggies have made a decision that, in their opinion, is irreversible," Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance told Double-T 104.3 FM in Lubbock on Saturday. "It's kind of like a divorce. When somebody makes up their mind, there's usually not much you can do about it."
It looks like Texas A&M is all but out the door, set to become the SEC's 13th member for the 2012-13 school year. The Big 12, for its part, doesn't seem too considered and appears set to reload by expanding to one or three programs, which Hance said would "be a bigger story than the Aggies leaving." Yesterday's article in the Dallas Morning News threw out the possibility of Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Arkansas, Pittsburgh and SMU as possible A&M replacements.
Of course, the bigger story around these parts is who the SEC taps as the conference's 14th program. Virginia Tech, Florida State and Clemson from the ACC have all been bandied about as possible SEC expansion candidates. If A&M to the SEC is finalized this week, I still maintain that this isn't the domino that triggers the era of the super conference and four, 16-team BCS conferences. Unless a big piece comes off the board -- Texas bails on the Big 12 (why would they?) or Notre Dame decides to join a conference (academics seem like a nonstarter for the Irish) -- I think you'll see:
1. SEC Expansion. The SEC move to 14, adding Texas A&M and a team from the ACC or Big East (Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Louisville). ACC programs in existing SEC markets -- Florida State, Clemson or Georgia Tech -- likely won't be added as the SEC's 14th team.
2. Big 12 Expansion/Replacement. The Big 12 gets back to 10 teams by adding newly independent BYU.
3a. ACC Expansion/Replacement. The ACC replaces Virginia Tech with West Virginia or Syracuse (whichever program wants out of the Big East more), or
3b. Big East Expansion/Replacement. The Big East responds to the loss of one of its football playing members (West Virginia, Louisville, Syracuse) by adding Central Florida and Villanova to get to 10 football members.
What I don't think you'll see in the foreseeable future:
1. The death of the Big 12. So long as Texas and Oklahoma are committed to making the Big 12 work, both those programs have enough gravitational pull that they'll be able to lure eight other football satellites to stick it out with them in the Big 12. Remember too that UT and OU are more than happy playing in a conference without a title game (one less hurdle to the BCSNCG), making it unlikely the conference will expand to 12, unless it means adding Notre Dame to the fold. Plus, with Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor not leaving UT and OU's side, and with more than a couple Conference USA Texas teams lining up to join in, that's enough critical mass to keep the conference viable going forward.
2. The death of the ACC. The conference isn't going anywhere, even if the SEC poaches one of the conference's programs and Miami is given the death penalty.
3. Super conferences of the 16-program variety. The Big Ten seems content with 12 programs. Same can probably be said for the Pac-12, who barring a complete collapse of the Big 12, don't have many viable expansion options left. The ACC will remain viable as a 10 or 12 team conference. There's no way the Big East can balloon to 16 football schools without jettisoning the basketball-only members. Sixteen is just too unwieldy and I don't think you'll see BCS AQ expansion for expansion's sake, especially with the Big Ten and Pac-12 who are more than secure financially and enjoy a newfound symmetry with their Rose Bowl tie-in.
Whatever happens, the Aggies timing couldn't be more off. I, for one, am looking forward to actual college football this weekend and putting behind one of the most turbulent college football offseasons in recent memory.