Former Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin, who helped navigate Texas A&M’s 2012 move to the Southeastern Conference, said this week’s news of the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma reportedly seeking to join the SEC was a surprise to him.
Loftin said the news comes with more than a bit of irony.
“Ten years ago, our friends in Austin made a lot of fun of us [for] going to the SEC, which they looked down on as an inferior conference,” Loftin told The Eagle on Thursday, “and now if they really want to join it, as the rumors suggest, that really is interesting, isn’t it, that they’ve changed their mindset totally over a decade.”
Conversations he’s had about the potential move with various Aggies have ended with the same conclusion, Loftin said.
“Every Aggie I’ve talked to is totally against it, which shouldn’t surprise you at all,” Loftin said. “There’s been nobody I’ve talked to from A&M’s community that thinks this is a good idea for A&M.”
Loftin said certain factors could be hurdles for the schools to clear in becoming members of the SEC. Most notably is politics.
“If two schools leave the Big 12, it really calls into question the Big 12’s ability to survive, and that means three Texas schools are out potentially in the cold, and that would not be popular with people in Texas,” Loftin said. “[Former Oklahoma President] David Boren ... he told me repeatedly that OU could not go anywhere without taking Oklahoma State with them, and this rumor’s just what’s going to happen, which means a lot of problems are going to occur in Oklahoma.”
But the Longhorns and Sooners could get admitted to the SEC without adhering to the traditional politics within the conference.
Loftin said when he was A&M’s president, the SEC had an unwritten gentleman’s agreement that if a school from the state of an existing member wanted to join the conference, the existing member had full veto power, in spite of the league’s by-laws stating a vote of three-quarters of the members could get a new school added. Although Loftin said it was clear A&M would have had the power to stop Texas from entering the SEC 10 years ago, that might not be true anymore.
“Certainly that’s what [former SEC Commissioner] Mike Slive said to me, but he’s not with us anyone,” Loftin said. “He’s not commissioner, and he’s not alive anymore, so I don’t know what the current thinking is because most of the current leaders in the SEC are new since my time.”
Loftin said he could imagine the league’s four most western schools — A&M, Arkansas, LSU and Missouri — questioning the benefits adding Texas and Oklahoma would give them, particularly in recruiting.
“Right now, we have an edge because we’re in the SEC,” Loftin said. “If we add OU and Texas in, think about what happens then to recruiting for Missouri and Arkansas and LSU and Texas A&M. ... That becomes quite an interesting problem, at least for those four schools, and I think there’s at least four members of the SEC that might have concerns, and three beyond Texas A&M, not because of a state problem, but because of a recruiting problem in the middle of the U.S.”
Adding a school on the East Coast from a state with no current SEC members would be more logical, Loftin said, especially if conferences are moving toward having 16 teams.
“You could argue Texas and OU are big brands, but we already have a presence in Texas. Why do we need that?” Loftin said. “OU maybe is a better argument, but I think there’s a lot of logic and sensibility toward thinking about another team on the East Coast in a state where there’s not an SEC school in right now.”
Loftin said he hasn’t contacted any current A&M administrator, such as President M. Katherine Banks or Athletic Director Ross Bjork, and he doesn’t plan to. He said he would offer advice if contacted, though.
Economic impacts of Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC could be a positive, Loftin said, but the negatives are too much for an A&M leader to support the move.
Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC ultimately depends on the Big 12’s trajectory, Loftin said.
“It’s interesting to watch it play out,” Loftin said. “But I do, as an Aggie, have deep concerns about this. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I have no way to influence this or know the truth of it right now.”