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Texas A&M announcement, celebration of SEC move on hold

Fears over a potential lawsuit have put Texas A&M's announcement and celebration of a move to the Southeastern Conference on hold. The celebration, planned for Wednesday on the College Station campus, is being held up by fears that Baylor could sue over the Aggies' departure from the Big 12.
FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS Published: September 7, 2011

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Southeastern Conference cleared the way for Texas A&M to join its ranks — with a wrinkle.

At least one Big 12 school has threatened to sue if the Aggies leave the fold.

The announcement Wednesday that the SEC will make the Aggies the 13th SEC team once the legal issues are resolved is the latest step of a courtship which the Aggies initiated in July.

The SEC, which would become the first BCS conference with more than 12 members, said it received “unanimous written assurance” from the Big 12 on Sept. 2 that it was free to accept Texas A&M. The presidents and chancellors met late Tuesday “with the intention of accepting the application of Texas A&M to be the newest member of the SEC. “

Then the deal hit a snag.

“We were notified (Tuesday) afternoon that at least one Big 12 institution had withdrawn its previous consent and was considering legal action,” said Florida President Bernie Machen, chairman of the SEC leaders. “The SEC has stated that to consider an institution for membership, there must be no contractual hindrances to its departure. The SEC voted unanimously to accept Texas A&M University as a member upon receiving acceptable reconfirmation that the Big 12 and its members have reaffirmed the letter dated September 2.”

The Big 12 didn't say which school was threatening legal action. However, Mississippi State President Mark Keenum said it's “my understanding” that Baylor was the school holding up the move.

A person familiar with the Big 12 situation told The Associated Press “multiple schools” had not given up their right to legally challenge a move by Texas A&M. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because no public announcement had been made.

The Big 12 did not return a message left seeking comment.

In a Sept. 2 letter, released by the SEC, Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe told SEC Commissioner Mike Slive that there were no legal hurdles to the SEC accepting Texas A&M, as long as it happened by Thursday afternoon.

“We both agreed it is in the best interests of each of our conferences and our member institutions of higher education to waive any and all legal actions by either conference and its members resulting from admission of Texas A&M into the SEC, as long as such admission is confirmed publicly by September 8, 2011,” Beebe wrote.

However, despite the letter, Slive was informed more than once before the SEC vote Tuesday night that “maybe more than one” of the other nine Big 12 members were considering legal options against a possible Texas A&M move, according to the person familiar with the Big 12 situation.

The SEC “thought it was clear and free without any possible issues. That is not what happened,” said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the private nature of those discussions.

The Sept. 2 letter was not intended to waive the rights of individual schools to sue and decisions like that need approval from various boards of regents and other university overseers, the person said.

“That certainly is not going to happen soon. You are not going to get all nine. You might get some,” that person told the AP. “Very few, if any, are willing with the uncertainty and instability of the Big 12 at this point to release their claims.”

Texas Tech President Guy Bailey in a text message confirmed that the university's board of regents would have to waive the school's right to pursue legal action. He also said Big 12 members were planning a conference call later Wednesday.

Texas A&M officials were disappointed.

“We are certainly pleased with the action taken last night by the presidents and chancellors of the Southeastern Conference to unanimously accept Texas A&M,” President R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement. “However, this acceptance is conditional, and we are disappointed in the threats made by one of the Big 12 member institutions to coerce Texas A&M into staying in Big 12. … These actions go against the commitment that was made by this university and the Big 12 on Sept. 2. We are working diligently to resolve any and all issues as outlined by the SEC.”

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