HOUSTON — Texas A&M dealt a blow to the Big 12 Conference on Wednesday, saying it plans to leave by July 2012 if it is accepted by the Southeastern Conference or another league.
The move, which had been expected, may set off another round of conference realignment in college sports. The Aggies have made it clear they want to join the 12-member Southeastern Conference, and the Big 12 has been clear that it will move swiftly to find at least one replacement for the Aggies.
University President R. Bowen Loftin notified the Big 12 in a letter and said departing the league "is in the best interest of Texas A&M." He said he hopes the move can be amicable and presumably hopes to negotiate a reasonable exit fee.
Texas A&M has been in the Big 12 since its founding in 1996.
But the school said it will submit an application to join another, unspecified conference. If it is accepted, Texas A&M will leave the Big 12, effective June 30, 2012.
"We are seeking to generate greater visibility nationwide for Texas A&M and our championship-caliber student-athletes, as well as secure the necessary and stable financial resources to support our athletic and academic programs," Loftin said in a statement. "This is a 100-year decision that we have addressed carefully and methodically. Texas A&M is an extraordinary institution, and we look forward to what the future may hold for Aggies worldwide."
The move by Texas A&M leaves questions about the future of the Big 12, which is down to 10 teams after Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) left the league in July after a wild round of realignment that also affected teams in the Mountain West, Big East and WAC.
Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton, who serves as the chairman of the Big 12 board of directors, said Tuesday that the group has formed a committee to look at possible replacements.
"The chancellors and presidents of the Big 12 are committed to keeping our conference competitively and academically strong," Deaton said in a statement. "We have a process in place that enables us to move aggressively regarding the possible expansion of the conference and to assure our members and student-athletes that we will take advantage of the most productive opportunities in the best interests of all."
Loftin sent a letter to the Big 12 last week formally telling Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe they were exploring all options and asked the conference to outline the process if they decide to leave. On Monday, the university said it had received a letter from Beebe outlining the withdrawal procedure.
"The presidents and chancellors of the nine remaining member institutions are steadfast in their commitment to the Big 12," Beebe said in a statement. "As previously stated, the Conference will move forward aggressively exploring its membership options."
The SEC said earlier this month it was happy with its current membership but left the door open to expansion, and the Aggies certainly wouldn't have made this move if they didn't believe they could eventually join the conference.
The Big 12, including Texas A&M, agreed to a 13-year television deal with Fox Sports in April worth more than $1 billion. There is a chance the contract could be voided by the Aggies leaving the conference, which could lead to legal issues for Texas A&M and its new league.
The Aggies will also likely face an exit fee for leaving the Big 12, although it's unclear how much that could be. Nebraska paid $9.25 million, and Colorado paid $6.9 million.