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    Texas A&M To The SEC: Barnhart's Take

    By: Eric SanInocencio
    SEC Digital Network

    Birmingham, Ala. -- With Texas A&M joining the Southeastern Conference, we continue to get reaction from across the nation about the newest addition to the league.

    In this special "Q and A", we sit down with Tony Barnhart, of the country's most esteemed college football writers. Known as "Mr. College Football", Barnhart writes for CBS Sports, and has a weekly column here on the SEC Digital Network.

    SEC Digital Network: What is your opinion of Texas A&M as a football team and what do you think the national perception of the program is?

    Tony Barnhart: I think Texas A&M has had some down years the past couple of seasons. They bounced back last year with nine wins, and if you have seen them so far this season you know that this is a program headed up. Texas A&M is on the rise. I think they found their coach in Mike Sherman and I think they have great recruiting territory and great traditions. I think the national view of Texas A&M is that here is a program that is on its way up. When you look at a program you wonder if everything is there for them to be successful. Recruiting, resources, fan base and tradition..is it all there? When you look at Texas A&M, it is all there.

    SEC Digital Network: Do you think Texas A&M is a good fit for the SEC?

    Tony Barnhart: Do they fit in the SEC? Absolutely they fit in the SEC. There is a long tradition, particularly with Arkansas and LSU playing Texas A&M. I have always looked at Texas A&M as one of those places that if they wanted to leave, the SEC would absolutely be a natural fit. They go into Louisiana and recruit, obviously recruiting in Texas as well. I think if Texas A&M looked around as to what would we be a good fit for them, the SEC would be a no brainer.

    SEC Digital Network: What does this mean going forward for the Southeastern Conference in your opinion?

    Tony Barnhart: I think it shows is that the SEC once again is in a situation where they have a great thing. Having a 12-team conference has been incredibly good for the SEC, but, you can't stay still. You have to be looking forward. That is something that the SEC has always done under Mike Slive. The SEC is saying, "Hey, we know we are good today, and we have been good the last 10 or 15 years, certainly the past 18 years since division play started in 1992."

    But, you have to be forward looking in this kind of thing and this is another example of the SEC looking down the road and trying to get there before other people do.

    SEC Digital Network: You keep hearing the reference that Texas A&M brings a new "footprint" to the SEC. To the average fan, what exactly does that mean and why is it so important?

    Tony Barnhart: It means that when you expand, what you want to do is in the states you have schools located in (Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee) that is what makes up your footprint. If you looked at a map of the United States and put a helmet where each SEC school is located, when you look at the 12 that is your footprint.

    What you are trying to do, particularly now if you are the SEC or any conference in expansion, is you want to expand how big that footprint is. It helps you in a lot of ways. It helps you in recruiting, it helps you with television revenue and I've always said that in the early process of expansion for the SEC it is about expanding the footprint and having more eyeballs to put on the TV set.

    SEC Digital Network: Do you think the SEC will be comprised of 13 schools starting next academic year?

    Tony Barnhart: I do. As this things have gone on, I've gotten the sense from Commissioner Slive and the Presidents that they are saying they can do this for one year with 13. This is a situation, and it is about timing. Texas A&M picked up the phone and made it clear to Commissioner Slive that they were ready to go. The SEC said ok, if you are ready to go, we will talk about this now. I think the SEC would have preferred to have schools 13 and 14 together, but when the opportunity presents itself you aren't always able to do those kind of things.

    I was one of the people who was saying "No Way" that the SEC would operate as a 13-team league. But as I look as I look at it more closely, that may be what the SEC has to do to get the 14th team that they really want.

    SEC Digital Network: Is this the start of something bigger in terms of what the college landscape will look like in the future?

    Tony Barnhart: I think the key is what happens to the Big 12. If the Big 12 can just plug in a team, or a couple of teams and hold together despite the loss of Texas A&M, then I don't think we have the mad shake up we have all predicted. If the Big 12 breaks up, and two or more of those schools go to the Pac-12, then we are off and running. Bottom line is that if the Big 12 holds together, I think there is minimal change. If the Big 12 falls apart, then I think it will be a big game of musical chairs. I promise you.

    SEC Digital Network: Do you agree with the argument that a larger SEC can water down the league, and leave the conference beating up itself and not being able to compete for National Championships?

    Tony Barnhart: No I don't, because I heard the same argument when the SEC went to 12 teams. When the SEC went to 12 teams and created divisional play, and had a conference championship game, I had more than one coach come up to me and say that was it. The SEC will never win another National Championship. Now they've won five in a row, and 6 of 7 since the advent of the BCS. Great teams are going to rise to the top, and the great teams spawn other great teams. You are still going to play 8 or 9 conference games, so I don't think that changes at all.