Monday, August 15, 2011
Sports News

For now, SEC will stick with its 12 schools

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[August 15, 2011]  JOHNS CREEK, Ga. (AP) -- The Southeastern Conference is staying just as it is -- for now.

However, the game of major college conference realignment appears far from finished.

University of Florida President Bernie Machen, the chairman of the Southeastern Conference's presidents and chancellors committee, said the group met Sunday and "reaffirmed our satisfaction with the present 12 institutional alignment."

Machen said no action was taken regarding Texas A&M or any other schools. He didn't, however, close the door on change.

"We recognize, however, that future conditions may make it advantageous to expand the number of institutions in the league," Machen said in a statement. "We discussed criteria and process associated with expansion."

The Aggies reportedly are looking to leave the Big 12. The Texas A&M System board of regents is to meet Monday, and among the items on the agenda is conference alignment.

A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement Sunday there is "a considerable amount of misinformation" regarding the school and the SEC. Loftin said he didn't participate in the meeting Sunday with the SEC, but would be authorized by the regents to "take all actions related to athletic conference alignment."

If it leaves the Big 12, Texas A&M's first destination preference appears to be the SEC. Arkansas Chancellor Dave Gearhart said that much was made clear at the SEC meeting Sunday.

"(Texas A&M) did approach the SEC, not the other way around," Gearhart said. "I'm not really sure of all the reasons for that. I'm sure that there's a lot of speculation on behalf of a lot of people that what caused them to do that. The bottom line is they did approach the SEC."

Gearhart said the Aggies were among a number of topics discussed at the SEC meeting in Atlanta.

"It was really an open discussion, not just about A&M but about the future of the conference and the future of other conferences," Gearhart said. "We did talk about Texas A&M. It's a great university, a great place. But I think the decision was to make no decision at this particular time."

Gearhart said the SEC presidents and chancellors are "very comfortable" with the 12-team alignment, financially and competitively. But he, too, said they wouldn't rule out expansion.

"If some other conference is going to make changes, it behooves us to take a look at that," Gearhart said.

He added: "I think everybody will sort of be watching what happens in Texas and what they do."

Gearhart said he didn't come away from the meeting with any clearer idea of what form future conferences might take. He said talk of four "super conferences" was just that -- talk.

As for how any future alignment would affect the SEC, or if the conference would look actively look to add schools, Gearhart pointed to the league's history of success and his confidence in commissioner Mike Slive.

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"If you look at what the member institutions have won on the gridiron and all sports, for that matter, we've done very, very well," Gearhart said.

Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe and the conference's board of directors discussed the future of the conference and Texas A&M's possible departure during a conference call Saturday.

"The board strongly conveyed to Texas A&M its unanimous desire that it remain a Big 12 member, and acknowledged its value to the conference," the Big 12 said in a statement Saturday night.

Texas State Rep. Dan Branch, the chairman of the Texas House Committee on Higher Education, called a hearing before his committee for Tuesday with Big 12, SEC and Texas A&M officials. Loftin said he has accepted Branch's invitation to participate in the meeting.

"These are extremely complex issues," Loftin said, "and it is imperative that we proceed methodically and in the best interests of Texas A&M."

The Aggies' football team went about business as usual Sunday with two indoor practices.

Coach Mike Sherman reiterated late in the afternoon that he's not in the loop on developments involving the SEC and his sole focus is on the Sept. 4 opener against SMU.

"My comment that I don't pay a whole lot of attention to it, is accurate," Sherman said.

Senior safety Trent Hunter says the Aggies have followed the coaches' mandate to block out the rumors and concentrate on football.

"Not been very hard at all," Hunter said. "Our coaches made a very good point of it. They nipped it in the bud on the first day -- don't talk about it, don't tweet about it, don't Facebook about it. It's not anything that's going to affect us playing SMU in that first week."

The school said athletic director Bill Byrne was traveling back from France and also was not available.

[Associated Press; By KURT VOIGT]

AP Sports Writer Chris Duncan in College Station, Texas, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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