With Texas A&M joining SEC, conference focuses on what’s next

semerson@macon.comSeptember 26, 2011 

ATHENS -- The long-expected finally became official Sunday, when Texas A&M was announced as the SEC’s newest member. Now the uncertainty begins.

The conference is not poised to add another school to make it an even 14. So while the wrangling will continue about whether to expand and then which school to invite, the more immediate concern is the logistics of a 13-team conference.

Texas A&M will officially leave the Big 12 and join the SEC in July and begin play in the SEC in all sports next fall -- including football.

The conference schedule for next season has been set for some time, but now that will have to be ripped up. Texas A&M would seem headed for the West Division.

While that obviously affects Auburn, it could also impact Georgia. The Bulldogs are due to play at Alabama and Auburn next year and to host Mississippi.

The Georgia-Auburn series seems safe. But how everything else gets settled is a mystery.

“It’s critical that the Georgia-Auburn series stay intact in football,” Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said last week. “I can’t imagine that being displaced or being discontinued. I think your traditional rivalries are always going to be there. Tennessee-Alabama, count on that.”

McGarity said that while he was personally out of the loop on expansion -- the presidents are handling that -- once it’s all decided, he expected the athletics directors to “get in a room and discuss how it all works.” The question is whether it does end with Texas A&M.

“You would think if they’re joining us, you’d think there’d be at least another one joining somewhere along the way,” Georgia football head coach Mark Richt said Sunday. “It’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out in the end.”

Life is changing as we know it throughout college football.”

Missouri, another Big 12 member, has been discussed the most as a possible SEC target. The Birmingham News reported last week that Missouri and the SEC had informally talked, and there was a tentative plan to move Auburn to the SEC East, making it an even seven teams in each division.

But Missouri’s situation remains up in the air, as the Big 12 is trying to hold together. The SEC does not appear interested in West Virginia, a Big East school. And as for ACC schools, Florida State and Clemson could be blocked by current SEC members, while Virginia Tech has issued statements about not being interested in a move.

Meanwhile, SEC commissioner Mike Slive made clear in a statement that the conference was prepared to go forward with an uneven amount of schools.

“When Texas A&M joins our conference, we don’t have immediate plans for a 14th member,” Slive said. “We aren’t thinking in terms of numbers. We think about the strength of the SEC and the attractiveness of Texas A&M as an institution.”

The SEC’s release pointed out that Texas A&M is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, a research consortium. Florida and Vanderbilt are the only other two SEC schools currently in the AAU.

Texas A&M’s football team is ranked 14th in this week’s Associated Press poll, and began the year in the top 10. Two years ago, Georgia met Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl, with the Bulldogs winning 44-20.

“We did get a chance to play them a couple years ago, and they’re a really fine football team,” Richt said.

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