By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The excitement in the air at the Zone Club at Kyle Field was undoubtedly palpable. For those of us who have spent years working in college athletics, we have the unfortunate tendency to sometimes take the special moments for granted. The opportunities to be involved in historic occasions in the world of collegiate athletics can regrettably become commonplace, as difficult as that may be to understand.
That was definitely not the case that night.
Walking up the escalators into the Zone Club, even the most seasoned veterans in the college athletics industry couldn’t help but get chills. A spirited contingent of Texas A&M faithful was on hand to witness the event, the Aggie Band was in fine form, playing the Aggie War Hymn, and it was immediately clear that it would be an evening to be cherished for a lifetime. After all, Texas A&M is just the third institution to be added to the Southeastern Conference outside of its charter members, in the league’s storied 78-year history. Arkansas and South Carolina, the only two other non-charter members, joined back in 1992.
And yet, for all of the nearly overwhelming components of the SEC Kickoff Celebration, there was another central emotion that was tangible.
It felt natural.
Yes, College Station is a city that is new to many SEC fans. Yes, the many fine traditions of the Aggie Nation are something that current SEC fans may have to learn. And yes, when you’re in the SEC, conference re-alignment is not something that happens often.
But witnessing the fervor, passion, customs and cultures on display on Monday night and it felt like a road trip to any other SEC school. Last night, it was easy to see why Texas A&M is a natural fit to become the league’s 13th member institution.
Speaking at the school’s 6 p.m. CT celebration last evening, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said that the number of similarities between Texas A&M and the conference’s current 12 members made the decision-making process much simpler.
“Texas A&M is a world-class institution, one of only 61 AAU members and is a leading research institution with one of the largest endowments in the nation,” Slive said. “But you not only bring academic excellence to the Southeastern Conference, but athletic success as well, evidenced by eight national championships in four different sports in the last two years.”
But it’s not just the success that the Aggies have had on the field or in the classroom that helped make it clear that Texas A&M would be a natural fit. It is all that surrounds the university that links it to its future peer institutions in the SEC.
“Equally impressive to me is the culture, the passion and the spirit of Texas A&M,” Slive said. “Over the last month, I have watched your games and enjoyed the passion that surrounds you. This is a kind of pride and passion that is shared by your fellow members of the SEC. We welcome all A&M students and former students to come see us, to road trip to tradition-rich SEC campuses like your own tradition-rich campus.”
Admittedly, it is often possible for the idea of change will be met with some hesitation. Not just in the world of sport, but in every aspect of our lives.
Especially since the addition of Arkansas and South Carolina in 1992, the SEC has consistently set the standard of excellence for broad-based success in the world of collegiate athletics. Most visibly, the conference has won five consecutive BCS National Championships and have collected a handful of national titles in men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and a host of other sports during that time span.
The conference has accomplished those things with a 12-team league and wasn’t looking to expand. But the thought of Texas A&M joining the SEC couldn’t have been more natural. It felt that way then, and it unquestionably felt that way on Monday evening.
“We were very happy at 12,” Slive said. “But when Texas A&M came to us and indicated their interest in joining the SEC, we said to ourselves ‘That is a great institution academically, athletically, culturally and, in every way, a real fit.’ So, we decided, even though we were content at 12, that to have the opportunity to have Texas A&M as part of the SEC was something that we just did not want to give up.”
As Slive addressed the crowd, he expressed the strengths of adding a Texas A&M program that seems to have so many similarities with current league institutions. In short, it just made sense.
“You’ll fit right in at the Swamp, between the hedges at Georgia, at Bryant Denny Stadium, at the Grove at Ole Miss and at all of our wonderful tradition-rich league institutions,” Slive told Aggie fans on Monday. “The SEC is a conference of champions. We take great pride in our athletics, our academics and our culture. A&M is a great fit for this tradition of excellence. We look forward to renewing old rivalries and creating new ones as we integrate A&M into our family and a family it is.”
After attending Monday’s celebration in College Station, there is really only one question that comes to mind about Texas A&M joining the SEC for the 2012-13 academic year.
Could anything be more natural?