Since I spent the last two weeks glued to Twitter and Aggie message boards, waiting in vain for the exact second that any #secede or #gigem news comes out, with sports talk radio going (Paul Finebaum is a really interesting listen, although I contend that his call-in hillbilly listeners are what make the show) I figured I’d spend some time doing a little research to see if the totally unbiased and well-researched folks at ESPN were right about Texas A&M being in over their heads in the SEC forever and ever.
If you read the drivel that ESPN is throwing out to protect their $300m investment over in Austin, you’d think that Texas A&M was no better than Tulsa or Memphis, trying to break into the SEC’s backdoor for protection while mean ol’ badass Texas was running roughshod over them and whipping them along the way like a wife who got a bit mouthy for her own good. Before you know it, the folks all around the state with access to a wordpress account joined the dogpile, with Twitter all a-glow with full bodyslams to our beloved Aggies, some of which were definitely warranted and some of which were just all out viciously brutal with merely the slighted tinge of bias or just all-out ignorance of the situation.
Hell, even the Baylor president, Ken Starr, took to his computer to fire up the troops in Waco, penning a couple of letters decrying “tradition” and hinted at a lawsuit if A&M were to bail out of the failing Big 12 conference (Big 12, Big 10, Big Crap…whatever it’s called). Keep in mind that this is the same guy whose name is synonymous with blowjobs and cumstains. No offense, Kenny…even Baptists enjoy a good hummer from time to time, apparently. Wait…one more joke: Is Baylor ok with Ken Starr as their mouthpiece? Ok, I’m finished. I am annoyed, though, that a team that could BEARLY win a conference game until over a decade in the league somehow has the audacity to try to bully another by using a financial report that was obviously trumped up with false numbers. The author of that report, it turns out, is being sued for defaulting on over $200k in credit card charges.
Not to mention the fact that somewhere in this whole thing, a filthy PR firm was employed to get as much bad press as possible out about A&M. One of the cofounders of that PR firm, it turns out, is a Baylor alum and was one of the guys who tried the same thing last year when A&M was rumored to be leaving (thanks to a Dallas Morning News open-records request).
Listen, we here at HSJ Central are the first to point out when A&M does dumb shit, and for the last decade there’s been a lot to point at. I never in my wildest dreams thought that a major football program the size of Texas A&M would be in a situation where the another team scored 77 points and allowed zero, and then started downing the ball in the 3rd quarter to stop the bleeding. You know the thing about Aggies winning or losing but never quitting? They quit that day in 2003. And they quit in 2009 against Kansas State. The entire decade has been a massive Aggie joke, to the point where some of us almost forgot what it was like to be relevant and an entire generation of Aggies have come, gone, and entered the workforce without ever knowing what it’s like to NOT be a joke.
So, I’m not going to make any excuses. The truth of the matter is that for an entire decade, Texas A&M has NOT been serious about football. It’s easy to let things slide when you are regularly getting killed. For the better part of 2000-2010, A&M has held on to just a shade better than .500 football. In the meantime, OU has lost more national championships in that time than A&M has played for total. Somehow, being a fan of the Longhorns because such a fashion trend that they are able to sell $130m/year in t-shirts, which is damn near double what A&M does. Even Texas Tech got into the mix, polishing A&M off in just about every single game possible and riding just about a 15 year streak where A&M couldn’t find a win with a flashlight and a map.
What happened to us, Aggies? Is what we’ve experienced in the last 10 years really us? And do we really not deserve to be mentioned as a bunkmate to the mighty SEC? That’s what they are saying, Ags. They are saying that a dog team like A&M doesn’t belong in the SEC. “Just another Miss State” they say (who beat us the last time we played them). “Might rival Vanderbilt for worst in the conference” , “Could never compete with the powerhouses of the SEC” (tap the brakes, homes).
Here’s my wildass theory. It’s wildass, mind you, and might even be bordering on an excuse. But it’s my theory and I have some data to back it up. I think Bonfire falling changed our university, and it took ten years for us to create a brand new identity. It’s a new culture at A&M. It’s not the same as it used to be.
I think something happened to us in 1999. Fresh off a Big 12 Championship (our only one to date) and back-to-back division championships, Texas A&M had a rough year (at least by our own standards). Seven wins and four losses took us out of the chance to play for a third straight conference championship, while an upstart OU team rebounded and beat us for the first time since the formation of the conference. Kansas State was finishing up their third straight 11 win season, and Texas was rolling out flamboyantly ladylike all-world true freshman Chris Simms that was somehow challenging sip legend Major Applewhite over in Austin. The season was definitely a disappointment for A&M, but it wasn’t something that we couldn’t rebound from. Especially given our most recent success. Then our Bonfire fell.
Bonfire fell and A&M rode a wave of emotion to beat Texas at Kyle Field with Simms under center (where he is most comfortable, gently cradling balls). Some of the folks at Texas claim that Applewhite was poisoned the night before on purpose so he couldn’t play. Then again, some Aggies claim that Mack Brown intentionally watered down the field the year before, knowing that the Aggies wouldn’t be prepared to play in such soggy conditions. Either way, A&M won the game in ’99.
After that wave of emotion crashed, something changed in us. The campus wasn’t the same, as A&M was all over the news nationally while taking heaps of criticism about our second greatest tradition (Aggie Muster being the first, of course). We didn’t handle it well, Ags. Instead of taking care of those who were hurt, some of the folks in the admin chose to legally protect themselves first while leaving A&M completely undefended from the increasingly vicious barbs heaved our way. Suddenly, we were an antiquated school with antiquated facilities, antiquated leadership, and a place that no one in Texas in his/her right mind would attend. Coach RC Slocum tried his best to recover from the devastating event. ESPN ran a reality show about Aggie football called Sidelines, that was an abysmal failure, to the point where there were rumors that the folks on the show were drinking alcohol on camera underage. Every single step along the way, A&M stepped in shit and then slid it up its own pantsleg.
At the end of RC’s career, A&M sacked up and did the unthinkable…we went out and hired the hottest coach in the nation away from one of the top 3 storied programs of all time (Michigan, Notre Dame being the other two). It was an unbelievable reversal of fortune for A&M, and after a couple years of being kicked around (but still not a losing season since Jackie Sherrill’s first year at A&M in the early 80’s) A&M was ready to get things back in order.
Then total disaster hit. Franchione was the worst thing that could have happened to A&M. His first season was something out of a nightmare. Every chance he had to advance, he took a flying dive off backwards. It didn’t help that instead of trying to focus on the program, he and his PR mechanic were out doing all they could to keep his name from being destroyed so he could be in line for an NFL job. After three seasons at A&M, that was an impossibility. Whatever chance we had to get things going again were demolished, and after five years A&M swallowed a reported $4m buyout (not to mention eating the $1m Fran was supposed to donate to the athletic department for facilities in his trumped up extension deal). A&M bit the bullet and carried out a nationwide coaching search that consisted of Bill Byrne going behind the curtain after firing Fran, taking a squirt and then holding another press conference for his new coach, Mike Sherman.
Now, listen…we’ve been hard on Sherman at HSJ. REAL hard on Sherman, and most of it has been well-deserved. I mean..at any point in the process of managing a football program, how do you lose to Arkansas State?. Up until the middle of the season last year, it looked like Sherman was a short-timer. There were even rumors that a buyout of his contract was being negotiated. Somehow he remembered how to coach overnight, and before you know it we are sitting here ranked as a top 10 team going into the season and rumored to be joining the best football conference in the land.
Here we are back at the start after an admittedly long-winded recount of how we got here. The question still remains, though…can A&M even get close to competing in the NFL-like SEC? The method to the madness here is to show that from 2000-2010, we had a terrible run. Anything that could have gone bad did. Just like you can’t judge Texas Tech as a whole based on the 10 years that Mike Leach was there, you can’t judge A&M wholly from the past decade. We know that A&M:
–Has won 8 national championships in the past three years, albeit in minor sports. Men’s basketball has a streak of tournaments going, and baseball went to Omaha last year for the College World Series.
-Is top 20 overall ranked football program of all time
-Is a top 15 ranked football home attendance team
-Is top 15 capacity for college football stadiums, with that number set to rise with additions to Kyle Field starting in 2012.
-Is 3for5 in its last meetings against Texas, and since the 70’s is just about even overall even though both teams had solid runs against the other
I’m not trying to erase the last 10 years of Aggie patheticness (word?), as much as I’d like to. But let’s just take a 15 year swath at how A&M did before the catastrophic event of Bonfire. While we are at it, let’s compare it to some of our bunkmates in the Big 12. Again, if we are talking about whether or not A&M can be a contender in the SEC conference, you have to look at this from a more holistic view. Again, we are talking capabilities here.
From 1985-1999, Texas A&M had a record of 138-44-2. That’s a solid trend, and obviously was one of the reasons A&M was a centerpiece of the Big 12 conference that was formed in the early 90’s. During that same period, Texas had a record of 103-72-2. Both are respectable records, although we should point out that A&M didn’t have a single losing season that whole time while Texas had five and one 5-5-1 season. Powerhouse OU ran up a record of 110-61-3 during that fifteen year period with two national championships (only one recognized by AP and Coaches’ Poll).
To summarize so far, A&M had more wins than both Texas and OU in the fifteen years leading up to the decline of Aggie football. Let’s continue.
Texas Tech during that time had a record of 93-78-1. Not bad. They shared a five-way conference title in 1994, when, if not for the probation year at A&M the Aggies would arguably be the national champions. It’s hard to say they were the best team in the nation, though, since the Aggies weren’t allowed to be on television. It was Tech’s first conference championship since the mid-70’s, which was their first Southwest Conference championship ever. For the record, they have not won a conference championship since that five-way tie in 1994.
Kansas State, the darling of the late 90’s in the Big 12, had a record of 91-80-2, including two winless seasons sandwiched between 1 and 2 win seasons that followed yet another 1 win season. I’m still not sure how they even made it into the Big 12 in the first place. Oklahoma State during that period was 79-88-3. Not even .500 football.
I’m not just grabbing random seasons here…I’m using a fifteen year period that was ostensibly the halcyon days of college football and where the behemoth that we know now got started. To recap, A&M had a better record during that time period than Texas, OU, OSU, KState, and Tech.
Why is that even relevant? Because until the Big 12 Conference was formed, rumors were that A&M was talking with the SEC back then. Of course, Baylor’s main bottom bitch, then-Texas Governor/possible butch Ann Richards, was able to shoehorn themselves in the mix back then as well with threats to A&M (who was facing NCAA sanctions) if they didn’t go to the Big 12.
Compared to the powerhouses in the SEC? During that same time, LSU was 95-75-2. You can say that it’s not a fair comparison since the SEC was a tougher league and they had to play each other, which brought down the records. Fair enough, except that A&M was playing LSU almost every year during that time and had a record of 6-4 against the Tigers, until 1995 when A&M whipped LSU so bad that they cancelled the rest of the contracted series and walked out on a couple hundred thousand dollars owed to A&M. Money that was never paid, I might add.
Florida was 137-44-2 during that time. The mighty Crimson Tide was 136-46-2. To keep you from having to go back and look, A&M was 138-44-2. We had more wins from 1985-1999 than Texas, OU, Tech, Kansas State, OSU, Florida, LSU, and Alabama. Alabama and Florida, like OU, both won national champions during that time. Alabama did so with Aggie Gene Stallings at the helm. The same Gene Stallings who served on the Aggie Board of Regents, who is still deeply involved with SEC functions, and who is one of the main proponents for A&M to join the SEC. Here’s a breakdown of the stats, assuming I transposed them all correctly.
I can’t tell you that A&M is going to go tear the SEC a new asshole immediately and forever. Along the same lines, no one can tell you that A&M is going to go over and have a new asshole torn from head to taint immediately and forever. College teams go up and down, and the flow will eventually right itself. I can with all certainty tell you that A&M has the capability of hanging with the top of the conference in the SEC, and I can say that while backing it up with what they’ve done in the past. Starting a fresh new decade out as a top 10 preseason definitely helps the case, but to suggest that A&M will forever be down is inaccurate and downright stupid. It’s the type of thing I could expect from a network who is now in bed with a school for $300m or from some hack journalist with a blog and a twitter account. The Aggies can and will win in the SEC.
Especially now that A&M has gotten serious about football again.