If you know a current or former student of Texas A&M, chances are you've heard the big news from College Station.
You've probably been reminded daily.
Aggies' social media feeds are crammed with tribute videos, preview stories and motivational photos, all glorifying Sunday: A&M's first day in the SEC.
But is the hype warranted? John Thornton, a longtime member of the A&M athletic department staff, thinks so.
“The level of competition has everyone excited,” said Thornton, who played basketball at A&M in 1974-75, has been an Aggies coach and recently served as interim athletic director. “We are going to be competing against the best. I think everyone is really juiced to see the best on the regular basis.”
The Aggie excitement has been building since the SEC move was announced in September. But as today approached, the enthusiasm reached new levels.
“It's ratcheted up weekly,” Thornton said. “It's amazed me, even having been around in the college arena and Texas A&M as long as I have, that it has been this much excitement.”
The impact on recruiting could be immediate. New Aggies football coach Kevin Sumlin has already put together a 2013 recruiting class ranked, for now, No. 3 by Rivals.com (Texas is No. 7). A&M's class includes Southlake Carroll quarterback Kenny Hill.
“I can't wait to get down there. It's going to be fun,” Hill said. “I will get to be reunited with Sabian Holmes, who I played with last year. I know a lot of the players on the team, and everyone is excited about playing in the SEC.”
Hill, who led Carroll to a 5A state championship last year as a junior, is also a standout baseball player. Hill liked A&M before the Aggies switched conferences, but the opportunity to compete in the SEC was part of his commitment.
“It's a great selling point. People want to be playing in the SEC,” Hill said, adding a move to the SEC will help A&M compete with Texas for the state's top recruits.
“I think there are two powers now,” Hill said. “Moving to the SEC will be a turning point. It's a good move because players want to be in the SEC. Now you can stay in Texas and do that. You don't have to go to Louisiana or Florida or Alabama.”
It remains to be seen if A&M will continue a trend of overall athletic success in the SEC.
In 1996-97, the first year of Big 12 competition, A&M failed to win a single conference championship and finished 30th in the NCAA Division I Director's Cup standings, which evaluates a school's overall athletic performance across its top 10 male and top 10 female sports.
The Aggies are leaving the Big 12 with 61 total championships, six in 2011-12, and have finished in the Director's Cup top 10 for three straight years. Thornton hopes A&M will keep climbing.
“This is an opportunity for momentum, and we have a chance to really increase our exposure as an institution,” Thornton said. “We have the potential to compete with the top programs in the country. This is going to give us the opportunity to do that.”
Inclusion in the SEC will pay off immediately for the Aggies. A&M's licensing revenues will increase 27 percent from September through February and will top $3 million for the first time.
“We see the move to the Southeastern Conference as Texas A&M introducing our brand at the national level,” A&M vice president of marketing and communication Jason Cook said. “The SEC's media agreements are truly unparalleled across the country. That's going to give us an opportunity, not just to showcase our athletic programs, but our entire university.”
The SEC is viewed as the strongest football conference in the nation. Last year LSU played Alabama in the first matchup of conference opponents in a BCS championship game. Alabama's win gave the SEC its sixth straight championship, and the conference has produced eight of 14 BCS champions.
But A&M's move goes beyond the football field. Cook believes it's a chance to put the university on a national stage.
“This is bigger than football, and it's bigger than athletics,” he said. “We see this as an opportunity to introduce Texas A&M to the southeastern United States, new TV markets, new states and fan bases. This is an opportunity for a great world-class institution to stand on its own and represent the entire state of Texas in the SEC.”
Monday morning, the celebration will continue. Aggies, including A&M President Bowen Loftin, Thornton and representatives from all 20 A&M sports, will gather at the A&M indoor track stadium at 10 a.m. for a ceremonial SEC flag raising.
The party will likely continue. A&M sold out its football season tickets on March 27, the earliest date in school history. The Aggies' first SEC game will be in College Station on Sept. 8 against Florida, which has won two national championships in the past six years.
“There will some huge challenges,” Thornton said. “There will be great competition. But student-athletes at this level want to be challenged. They want to play against the best.”
A&M will also have to play Alabama and LSU.
Welcome to the SEC.
Distributed by MCT Information Services