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Texas A&M press conference transcript

An interview with:





JASON COOK:  On the stage we have Bill Byrne, athletic director of Texas A&M University; Dr. Bowen Loftin, president of Texas A&M University; SEC Commissioner Mike Slive; and Dr. Bernie Machen, chair of the SEC presidents and chancellors.

We’ll take questions for the panel.

Q.  Commissioner Slive, talking at SEC Media Days, you spoke about expanding quickly.  Why Texas A&M and why now?

COMMISSIONER MIKE SLIVE:  The comment I made at Media Days was actually tongue‑in‑cheek because the idea was everybody was talking about 16 being some magic number for a super conference.  I thought at 12 we were a super conference.  I was saying as a conference, we could add four schools very quickly, but that’s not really what we were about.

We were very happy at 12.  But when Texas A&M came to us and indicated their interest in joining the SEC, we said to ourselves, That is a great institution academically, athletically, culturally, in every way, and a real fit.  So we decided, even though we were content at 12, that to have the opportunity to have Texas A&M as part of the SEC was something that we just did not want to give up.

Q.  Bill, you’ll be playing football in the SEC next year.  How quickly will you be able to make that transition and get up to that caliber?

BILL BYRNE:  If we were not able to play in the SEC right now, I’m not certain we’d be going there.

The progress that our teams have made has been incredible.  I am so pleased, not with just what our football program has done, but you look at these national championship trophies out here, we can compete in the SEC.

Q.  What assurances have you had that the threat of litigation would go away?

COMMISSIONER MIKE SLIVE:  We have not received assurances except in this way:  back in early September when we received a letter from the Big 12 indicating that the Big 12 asked us to move ahead, actually it was very interesting because the initiative for that letter came from the Big 12, that Texas A&M was leaving, apparently they were, could we get it done in a hurry so that the Big 12 could move on and do what they really wanted to do to expand beyond where they were.

So we scheduled a meeting four days later.  Just before that meeting was to convene, we had heard from an institution that had concerns.  The concern was expressed because Oklahoma had indicated that it had concerns and was exploring its own future.

To make a long story short, when Oklahoma then decided that the Big 12 was where it wanted to be, we felt that the spirit of the letter that we got on September the 2nd was fulfilled and we were prepared to move ahead, and here we are today.

Q.  Commissioner Slive, do you need to add a 14th team now?

COMMISSIONER MIKE SLIVE:  Well, as I said last year over and over again, we have been very strategic and thoughtful about when we think about expansion.  When A&M expressed interest in us, we felt by any measure it was a good fit, so we moved ahead.

We have not been necessarily looking to expand.  At some point in time that may come to pass.  But this isn’t something that we feel we have to do right away.

Clearly scheduling with 13 is not easy, and we’ll work through that.  But we will remain very thoughtful and very strategic about what we do in terms of further expansion.

Q.  Bill, question regarding playing the Arkansas game, the series in Dallas, and then a question regarding the Texas rivalry.

BILL BYRNE:  We wanted to play Arkansas in the Metroplex.  We felt once we lost our contacts with TCU and SMU, we needed a presence in the Metroplex.  We still think we do.

Having said that, we need to talk with the athletic director at Arkansas to see whether they want to continue to have a conference game in the Metroplex.  That’s something the two of us need to talk about and then I’ll sit down and talk with President Loftin.

I would hate to give up the Texas series.  I saw the numbers in the paper this morning.  Am I wrong, 114 years we’ve been competing?  117, I was wrong.  But we want to continue playing.  That is such a storied, storied tradition and we would like to continue that.

Q.  Have you begun negotiating a buyout with the Big 12?

DR. BOWEN LOFTIN:  The very day after we sent our letter requesting membership in the SEC, I communicated of course with the Commissioner of the Big 12.  As we moved forward with that discussion with the SEC, we offered to immediately enter into negotiations with them for our buyout, our termination agreement basically.

They were more interested in getting the letter to Commissioner Slive saying, We don’t have any legal issues with you, go ahead and take care of this.  Our letter of withdrawal was conditional on the membership into the conference.  They felt it was important to act on that first.  That did not work out, as was indicated by the Commissioner.

We came back to them a week and a half ago with the same request:  Let’s get started with this.  Given the fact that Commissioner Beebe has now left the office, we have a new commissioner Chuck Neinas coming on board in an interim capacity, we assumed very quickly we can enter negotiations with them to get this done.  We have every point to quickly and with them to get this done.

We have every intention, as we said in our letter to them at that point, to quickly and amicably resolve this and go forward.  I can’t give you a number obviously.  We think we understand the range which our buyout is likely to occur.  It would be improper for me to quote you numbers right now, but we do think we know what that range will be.  We’re ready to go forward tomorrow, if necessary, and begin the conversation.

Q.  Have you started working on the process of the schedule?

COMMISSIONER MIKE SLIVE:  We have put together a transition team to begin working on schedules.  We brought 16 members of our staff here today so that they can get acquainted and start conversations.

The goal will be for the transition team to develop a series of options, and when these options are developed, we will take the options to our athletic directors for their consideration.  Once we have schedules worked out, we’ll be in a position to announce them.

Q.  What does it mean to you to add an institution like Texas A&M, Dr. Machen?

DR. BERNIE MACHEN:  That’s a great question.  As Bowen already indicated, he and I are seat mates at the AAU meetings twice a year.

I believe if you look closely at the academic components of both of our institutions, you will find an amazing amount of overlap.  We have faculty we recruit from here.  Bowen already indicated you stole my wife’s horse trainer to be your dean of vet med.  She also was my daughter’s mentor, so he owes me something out of this deal I can tell you for sure (laughter).

I am so comfortable having an institution as good as this one be a partner in our league.  I think all the other presidents and chancellors feel exactly the same way.

Q.  Commissioner, were you able to renegotiate your TV contracts within the SEC?

COMMISSIONER MIKE SLIVE:  In our agreement, we negotiate into our agreements two components.  We have in our agreements, the standard agreements that deal with conference composition, in terms of when you sit down and you talk about the conference’s composition if you gain an institution or if you lose an institution.

But in addition we negotiated into our agreement something we call look‑ins.  The purpose of a look‑in is that during the life ‑ because it’s a 15‑year contract ‑ during the life of a contract of that length, things change.  The landscape changes, technology changes, all aspects change.

So with the provision for a look‑in, we will sit down and make sure that at the end of the day, given the composition of our league, that we have exactly what we bargained for when we started.

Q.  President Loftin, was there any point during this process that you had second doubts, because of the length of time this took, any doubts as part of the process?

DR. BOWEN LOFTIN:  Good things come to those who wait (smiling).

Certainly once we really determined our direction here, which occurred in the July time frame, we had thought about this for a long time, really beginning last year.  Certainly in 2010 there was the potential then of the Big 12 breaking up.  We were prepared for that.  We had conversations then with Commissioner Slive and felt that was an option we wanted to consider very seriously.

Ultimately at that point things did not change, except for Nebraska and Colorado departing into different conferences.  We did a lot of work back in 2010 thinking about the fit, if you will, between Texas A&M and the SEC.

This year we continued to think through that and in July made the decision to approach the SEC and ask them to consider us for membership.

Certainly we did not expect that to be instantaneous.  We had to really give them time to think through it.  As I think the Commissioner indicated, and so did President Machen, the SEC is a very collegial organization.  It obviously wants to move forward with a complete consensus on the part of their chancellors and presidents.  That always takes some time to converse and work through those kinds of questions.

We did not anticipate some of the issues that arose that were externally driven.  We worked through those and were patient about it, although Aggies are seldom patient about some things.  We were certainly patient about this, and I appreciate the perseverance of Commissioner Slive and the presidents and chancellors of the SEC, my board as well as we worked through these kind of questions.

But we got there in due course, methodically, carefully, and to good purpose.

Q.  Dr. Loftin, any contact with officials from the University of Texas regarding the rivalry?

DR. BOWEN LOFTIN:  I have been on conference calls with individuals from UT Austin recently, but we’ve not discussed that particular matter in that context.

I made several public comments about this.  I will stand by those.  We certainly believe, as Bill Byrne said a moment ago, this is storied rivalry.  It’s one that we have treasured for many years and we certainly would want to continue that.  Of course, it depends on their reaction to that, as well.  But we have no reason not to continue it in our mind.

I want to say this.  The SEC has a long history of these kinds of cross‑conference rivalries.  Certainly within Florida, Florida State play yearly, Clemson and South Carolina, Georgia Tech and Georgia.  My understanding is the policy really permits and encourages those rivalries across conference boundaries to continue to occur in the best interest of the institutions and the SEC.

We’ve been assured by the conference commissioner we’d be able to do this if our partner wants to do so.

Q.  Are you talking specifically about all sports and not just football?

BILL BYRNE:  I don’t know if you recall, we started seven or eight years ago when I first came here, the Lone Star Showdown.  That is competition in every single sport.  I remember my favorite Austin columnist wrote a question.  He said, Who knew the Aggies had varsity sports?

We’ve tried to be a little better every year and I think we’ve become reasonably competitive with our friends in the state capital and we’d like that to continue.

Q.  Commissioner Slive, they talk about scheduling, playing Texas.  As you work the schedule, will it be possible to accommodate a Thanksgiving time playing the University of Texas?

COMMISSIONER MIKE SLIVE:  I don’t want to preempt what our transition team might come up with.  But speaking personally, not being the one who is going to be working on that schedule, I certainly would like to see that happen.

Q.  Commissioner Slive, given that we’re already in September, is it a safe assumption that the SEC will be 13 teams for 2012/2013 or could you see any other additions?

COMMISSIONER MIKE SLIVE:  We anticipate being a 13‑team league.

Q.  President Loftin, a question regarding the value of each member of the Big 12.

DR. BOWEN LOFTIN:  What I suggested to my colleagues in the Big 12 over the last several months is that we really needed to look internally into the Big 12 and ask the question, Why did Nebraska want to leave last year?  Why did Colorado want to leave?  Why was there so much turmoil there?  I’ve encouraged my colleagues in the Big 12, directors, to look carefully at those kinds of issues there.

As you know, the revenue sharing within the SEC is equal.  It is not so within the Big 12 currently.  We’ve discussed thoroughly moving in that direction.  Steps have been taken in that direction, but we’re not there yet.  That’s only one specific issue I can raise specifically with you that says that there’s not equality in terms of revenue sharing right now, which is one critical issue within the Big 12.

In my mind, I encouraged my colleagues in the Big 12 earlier to think seriously about that particular issue, among others.  So I certainly think the Big 12 has every opportunity to try to move in a direction which will give it stability and a great, bright future.  We hope it will happen.

Again, we just think the fit with the SEC is extraordinarily good.  As I said a while ago, we believe our visibility as an institution, our athletes here at Texas A&M will be much higher within the SEC conference right now.  So that’s why we’re doing it.

Q.  Question regarding the renovation of Kyle Field given the conference affiliation change, how has that affected the timeline?

DR. BOWEN LOFTIN:  I would not say it’s had any direct effect.  We’re really trying to make the very best decision.  We’ve worked carefully with our colleagues in the 12th Man Foundation and also within our facilities organization here at Texas A&M and also at the system level to discuss that.

We at one point were thinking in terms of starting a major project as early as the end of the season of 2012.  We’ve decided now to wait till at least 2013 to begin that to make sure we do it right.

We definitely think we need to work on Kyle Field from many perspectives.  Part of it’s been here for almost a hundred years, so it needs some work obviously.  What that work is is to be worked out with our team very carefully.  Right now we’re taking our time to figure out what exactly the right plan is for Kyle Field and we’ll be beginning that work as early as the end of the season for football in 2013.

Q.  Bill, as the AD, what do you most look forward to to see your teams compete in the SEC?

BILL BYRNE:  We had been using the SEC as kind of a training ground for some of the coaches we hired recently.  We’re going to be changing that (smiling).

But my favorite track coach in the whole world, Pat Henry, sent me a note saying, What do you want me to do first?  I said, Let’s go win some SEC track and field championships.

What we want to do is to continue to have the kind of success we’ve been having over the last five or six years.  The Aggies are relevant in college athletics.  We are building champions at Texas A&M.  I believe being a part of the best conference in the country goes with our philosophy that a rising tide raises all ships.  When you increase the competition level, your athletes will step up and we will continue to get better every day, every month, every year.  That’s our goal:  winning championships at Texas A&M.

JASON COOK:  Thank you very much.


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