published Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Texas A&M decision could determine future of storied series with Texas

DALLAS — The great Texas A&M conference debate has ignited the Aggies' fan base, spilled over into cyberspace and even has school legends debating the right path.

At stake: whether Texas A&M joins longtime rival Texas along with Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the bulked up Pac-10 or pursues its own destiny in the Southeastern Conference.

Multiple sources familiar with the situation described a sharply divided board of regents and a potential razor-thin margin either way, with the SEC camp having the momentum. Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott, armed with invitations, will visit A&M officials on Sunday on a trip around Texas with stops at Texas and Texas Tech, a source familiar with the schedule confirmed.

Scott met Saturday with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Oklahoma has scheduled a board of regents meeting for Wednesday to consider conference membership. While athletic director Joe Castiglione has acknowledged talking to the SEC, he told the Tulsa World that the Sooners are linked with Texas.

Several schools, led by Baylor, were still trying to salvage the idea of a 10-team Big 12, minus departing Nebraska and Colorado.

A move to the SEC would separate the Aggies from Texas and endanger the annual series, especially in football. One unconfirmed Internet report said SEC commissioner Mike Slive visited College Station on Saturday. The league office would not confirm or deny that report.

The idea of a move to the SEC seems to be gaining traction with the A&M fan base. A Facebook page titled "TAMU to the SEC" had more than 2,300 friends by late Saturday afternoon.

A&M athletic director Bill Byrne responded via e-mail Saturday, thanking the fans for their support and passion.

"Please let us continue to go through a thorough and thoughtful process," Byrne wrote. "Like you, we understand that this decision will impact us for decades. Let's not rush.

"Having said that, it is still our choice to keep the remaining ten Big 12 schools together if we can. If we cannot do that, then we will do our best to do the right thing."

But what is the right thing?

John David Crow and Gene Stallings each played for Bear Bryant at A&M in the 1950s and served the university with distinction long after their on-the-field careers ended.

Now the two Aggie legends have differing views about A&M's priorities.

Stallings, a school regent, told syndicated radio host Paul Finebaum on Friday the Aggies "don't need to be piggybacked by anyone else."

Crow offered his view in a phone interview Saturday, using the proposal to join four other Big 12 South teams in the Pac-10 as an example.

"I wouldn't think that just because we join with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas that we would be piggybacking with anybody," said Crow, A&M's only Heisman Trophy winner and later the school's athletic director. "I think if we decide that it's best for Texas A&M to join the Pac-10, 12 or 16 or whatever, I don't see why anybody would say we'd be piggybacking on the University of Texas."

Crow wasn't the only Heisman recipient who felt the UT-A&M series was a defining moment.

Former Texas standout Ricky Williams, the 1998 Heisman winner and now a member of the Miami Dolphins, said via e-mail that all he heard when he arrived in Austin from California was talk about the A&M game.

"A good season meant that we beat the Aggies, and when we fell short it was reflected in our performance against them," Williams wrote. "Most of my greatest memories involve A&M. I couldn't imagine Texas without A&M — it would be like Batman without the Joker, something would be missing."

Texas All-America linebacker Tommy Nobis, a cornerstone of the 1963 national title team, remembered running an extra lap in practice with the idea it could be the difference in beating A&M.

The subject even became a topic of discussion at the Cowboys' minicamp.

"There's no A&M without Texas," said receiver Roy Williams, a former Longhorns standout. "Too much tradition behind that rivalry, and Oklahoma as well with the Red River shootout. You can't break those three up."

Quarterback Stephen McGee, who led A&M to upset victories over Texas in 2007 and '08, expected the Aggies to be part of the Pac-10 package.

"It's unbelievable," McGee said. "That's definitely a shocker if they're off the schedule in a couple of years."

He cited the Thanksgiving tradition in Texas, blending extended families who attended A&M and Texas.

"That huge family sits down in front of the television to watch the game," McGee said. "The whole state of Texas is practically an Aggie or a Longhorn in some way."

Crow can only hope the tradition continues.

"That would break my heart for us not to be together," Crow said.

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