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SitRep: Texas A&M To The SEC Explained (As Of The Present Moment)

The entire Texas A&M to the SEC situation is really very simple: if you're going to set something on fire, be sure you collect the insurance payment. Spencer Hall explains the usual anarchy.

The CIA and the KGB never had any formal contact during the Cold War, or at least none they'd own up to at the time. Yet read through the archives, and you'll find a fascinating story of an annual meeting in a quiet, debugged room in Helsinki where the two agencies would quietly horse trade captured contacts and spies, have a few drinks, and then leave very quietly through the door and into the frigid Finnish air.

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I like to think they exchanged an awkward present or two, and asked about each other's families. "How's Katya? Still waiting in line for cabbage?" "She is fine, and likely not having the decadent Western affairs while you are out playing errand boy to the running dogs of capitalism." As much as I like to imagine this, the chances of that actually happening are probably as likely as Texas A&M not going to the SEC at this point. 

Texas A&M will still leave the increasingly inaccurately named Big 12, most likely still for the waiting arms of the SEC. Nothing has changed about this, not even after the SEC allegedly "passed" on the Aggies yesterday in an announcement released by the SEC. That statement was the SEC's way of saying, "We're going to wait until you say you're getting a divorce before we do any touching whatsoever, especially in our respective swimsuit areas."  Mike Slive's courtly like that, and like all lawyers even conducts his romantic affairs with a cold eye towards due process and proper paperwork. 

Texas A&M isn't being quite so measured, and may have a toothbrush stashed somewhere in the SEC's bathroom already. The principal reason: the increased revenue inequalities within the Big 12 are exacerbating an already strained relationship between Texas and Texas A&M, two historical rivals whose fight for resources, state money and breathing room in a crowded state university system extends well beyond the football field. The SEC sees access to fat Texas television markets in Texas A&M, and A&M sees a way to increase revenue and join a conference that, unlike the Big 12 at the moment, looks like it will still be collecting dues in 10 years and dividing them equally among its members.*

*$50 a year for each team in the SEC, for what it's worth, with some members in arrears, evidently

In order to avoid litigation of a nuclear power and aftereffect, the SEC and A&M have to trip a number a fail-safes and escape to a proper distance before any of this happens. A&M has to announce formally that they will leave the Big 12, and prepare for the ugly eventuality of amassing $30 million in exit fees they could owe their former conference. The SEC has to prepare their paperwork, figure out who their 14th member would be to balance their divisions, and do other large, unwieldy things that the integration of two large institutions entails.

They can do all of this right and still face heinous litigation so foul the lawyers use lead tongs and hazmat suits to handle the paperwork, but that's the natural fallout of anything involving so much money and such large organizations. Shake a merger, and a lawsuit or two is bound to fall onto the floor. The upshot of all this maneuvering, counter-maneuvering and endgame planning will likely be the Aggies in the SEC, and a 14th team added to the conference. You might want to know who that 14th team will be, and boy, the SEC would sure like to know, too, because they don't. If you do know who it is, the SEC's number at their offices in Birmingham is 205-458-3000. Please call them so they can begin negotiations immediately, since as this entire Texas A&M thing points out, that can take quite a while and involve a lot of moving pieces. 

There are two key points to take away from this. First, if you're wondering how this happens, we remind you that college football exists in the anarchic state of nature, and that this is essentially one big Game of Thrones between warring tribes. The primary rule is force: if you can take it, you do. The Pac-12 just stole Colorado and Utah, albeit with their loving permission. The Big Ten lifted a willing Nebraska from Dan Beebe's increasingly dissatisfied harem last year. Dan Beebe is an inept polygamist, but you already knew that.

It is anarchy, but orders emerge from that anarchy. I've said this before, but college football as a larger entity does not exist. There is no commissioner, no larger order. You don't want one, either, or at least you don't if you're a red-blooded American who likes the open range of free choice. Everything falls apart in college football by the decade, but inevitably re-emerges in some other order down the road. The overall welfare of the sport is guarded by those most impacted by its fits and starts: the schools themselves. As television revenues, the overall popularity of the sport and attendance indicate, the health of the sport itself is by and large robust.

This is not the NFL: we need no gods or emperors, and want none. Part of the sport's enduring strength comes from local ownership and regional character. To take that away in the name of a larger, possibly even more nonsensical order is antithetical to the sport's very identity.

The second point is that critical note about television revenues. Norby Williamson and the rest of the extremely sensitive souls at ESPN may not be members of the Illuminati, but they at least pay them for consulting. Consider the next level s--t they just pulled off with the Longhorn Network. The Big 12 itself is a product whose individual brands vary wildly in value, so they simply took partial ownership of its most viable line, and then waited for the rest to fall apart.

When it does--and Texas A&M is just one chunk of that--they'll take the rest of the salvage value and show it on the SEC Network in the form of Aggie games beamed to Texas television audiences. Meanwhile, their deal with the Big 12 expires, and rival Fox is left to muddle along on the massive new television deal with the Big 12 signed this past year.

This should sound familiar if you like Roman history, because it is Crassus' business plan: rush to the site of a burning building, bargain for the flaming property, and then charge the neighbors to put out the fire before it spread. The Longhorn Network is their bomb at the heart of college football. They own the salvage company that will clear the wreckage, have the blueprints for the luxury apartment buildings that will go on the cleared foundations, and have already secured parking contracts and lucrative exclusive utility deals.

You can't even be mad at planning that diabolical. All one can do is stand back and applaud the audacity of a company that can get cattle to stampede themselves into the slaughterhouse, and then thank you for helping them become the steak they've always hoped they would be.