- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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It's my favorite time of the year again: mating season between Texas A&M and the Southeastern Conference. These two have more affairs than Don Draper.
Anyway, I'm here to help. You have questions; I have answers.
Who made the first move?
This time, it was Texas A&M that initiated the contact with the SEC. No dummy, the SEC took the call.
Big deal. Haven't the SEC and A&M done an expansion dance before?
Yes, and A&M decided not to file for divorce from the Big 12 Conference. Now the Aggies are having huge second thoughts.
Why does A&M want out?
Because the Aggies clearly are conflicted about their place in the Big 12 Conference. If the Big 12 were a ship that suffered iceberg damage and sank, the lead paragraph of the news story would read:
"The University of Texas, centerpiece of college football and heartbeat of the Big 12 Conference, has been lost at sea and is presumed dead. Bevo and a nation mourn.
"Also killed: Texas A&M."
So the Aggies are tired of being No. 2?
Oklahoma is No. 2. OK, maybe even 1-B.
And before it bolted to the Big Ten, Nebraska was behind Texas and Oklahoma. Behind those three -- way behind -- was Texas A&M. Even with the Children of the Corn gone, the Aggies are no better than third on the Big 12 seating chart.
This can't just be about egos, can it?
Uh, yes it can.
The Longhorns have bigger everything. And now they have their own network. A&M was mostly cool with Texas having its own in-house network, but not so cool when ESPN decided to become a partner. That dramatically altered the dynamic.
Also, after the defections of Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-12, A&M has questions/concerns about the long-term stability of the Big 12. The SEC, in A&M's eyes, would provide more equality.
Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin says the Aggies might stay put. Should we believe him?
Tomorrow? Things change.
Don't underestimate the power of politics in this equation. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, our newest presidential candidate and former A&M yell leader and corps member, is in favor of switching conferences. And remember, the A&M board of trustees is loaded with Perry appointees.
What's in it for the SEC?
The potential for more money. Always -- especially when it comes to big-time college sports -- follow the money.
Isn't the SEC flush with TV cash?
The SEC signed a 15-year, $2.25 billion deal with ESPN that took effect in fiscal 2009-2010. It also has a 15-year, $825 million deal with CBS. Cha-ching.
But since then, both the Big Ten Conference and the Pac-12 Conference have surpassed the SEC with more lucrative TV contracts. Plus, the Big Ten has a cash cow with its highly successful Big Ten Network. And the Pac-12 will launch its own seven-channel network next year.
And that matters why exactly?
It matters because the SEC considers itself the best college football conference on the planet, but it's now third on the salary list.
But a deal is a deal, right?
It is unless the SEC invokes a "look-in" clause or an "opener" clause in the contract.
I spoke with network officials and major conference officials about the boiler plate workings of college football contracts. Here's the nutshell version:
A "look-in" basically says both parties can talk about adjusting the deal, but there is no obligation to do so on the broadcast partner's part -- in this case, ESPN. "Look-ins" are the 98-pound weaklings of TV contract clauses.
But an "opener" has more meat on its bones. An "opener" means the broadcast partner must negotiate in good faith. And if a deal can't be struck, then the dispute goes to arbitration.
You lost me. What does this have to do with Texas A&M and the SEC?
The SEC can't go on the open market for its next TV contracts until fiscal 2025. That's a long time to watch other conferences make more money than you. According to several conference officials familiar with such deals, the SEC's best chance of getting more money added to its existing deals (which looked great to the SEC back then, but less great now) is to meet the requirements of its "opener." I haven't seen the contract, but here's guessing the SEC would have to add two more teams to the conference to trigger those good-faith negotiations.
In the business, they're also called "conference composition clauses." If the number of SEC members changes, then so could the existing deal. And one way the SEC changes is if it adds, oh, I don't know, maybe Texas A&M and a 14th team to the league.
So the SEC could go Chris Johnson on ESPN?
If it adds, presumably, two more teams to the conference, SEC commissioner Mike Slive could argue that he's provided more value to ESPN and wants his league to be paid accordingly. ESPN, say those familiar with such contracts, could counter (and this is waayyyyy above my pay grade) that this is a pro rata situation.
In other words, it could give the SEC more money for the two new teams, but only in proportion to the existing deal. It wouldn't blow up the contract, only revise it relative to the present member shares.
And thus the negotiations would begin. Maybe it ends in arbitration, maybe it doesn't.
If A&M is the 13th team, who is No. 14?
If I had to bet a nickel, I'd say Louisville. SEC member Kentucky might not like it, but the Wildcats are already playing the Cardinals in football and basketball. And I don't think UK has enough political juice to stop it.
But let's be clear about this: A&M is the candy, Louisville is only the wrapper. The Big 12 could be an option for Louisville, but the SEC would be U of L's first choice.
Other than money, why does it makes sense for the SEC?
Other than money? It's everything about money.
But getting A&M would increase the SEC's recruiting footholds in talent-rich Texas and give the SEC's broadcast partners access to those TV markets. That's no small thing. And the Aggies have lots and lots of alums.
Wasn't the SEC pushing reform agendas not long ago? But now it might trigger expansion chaos?
Hold on there a minute, Sparky.
If it just adds A&M and Louisville, there's a good chance the dust would settle quickly. The Big 12 would take a shot to the gut, but could maybe convince football independent BYU to join up, or get TCU to ditch the Big East. The Big East would be weakened, but not mortally wounded.
But if the SEC has other ideas, then we've got apocalypse now. It could sign A&M and then try to raid the Atlantic Coast Conference for Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech for a 16-team super-conference. I don't think Florida, which has a lot of clout in the SEC, would go for FSU in the same conference, but these are strange times.
But let's say Slive is able to convince Florida, Georgia and South Carolina to give the thumbs-up to adding in-state rivals. Oh, boy.
Then the ACC might have hand-to-hand combat with the Big East and make runs at, say, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia. That might cause Notre Dame, which is a basketball and Olympics sports partner of the Big East, to re-examine its football independent status.
If the Big East goes away or is disfigured beyond recognition, then anything is possible. Even the Big Ten, which has publicly said it has no plans to expand past 12 members, would be compelled to consider a change in policy.
The New York Times reports that NCAA president Mark Emmert has contacted several conference commissioners about an expansion summit. Any chance of an expansion moratorium?
Emmert has no real power when it comes to such things. Getting these conference commissioners to agree on a single way of approaching expansion is like trying to herd cats through Times Square. They'll talk nice, but the commissioners serve at the pleasure of their league constituencies, not at the request of Emmert.
Your best guess on what happens?
A&M bolts to the SEC. Louisville happily follows. Expansion peace ensues.
Until the next move.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
The way to get to the bottom of this possible Texas A&M move to the Southeastern Conference: Follow the money. And ask questions.