The Tuesday Take: September 27, 2011
By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
COLLEGE STATION, Texas – If you were like most people last Sunday afternoon, you were probably away from your computers when we released the official announcement that Texas A&M would be officially joining the Southeastern Conference for the 2012-13 academic year.
After an exciting day of SEC football on Saturday, it was only natural that many of you were using your Sunday to run errands, complete chores around the house or to watch your favorite NFL teams compete.
Admittedly so, it had been a quiet week in the SEC offices. Me and my partner Eric SanInocencio (that’s @EricSan in the Twitter world
) were, as always, going about our daily tasks to provide you, the reader, with up-to-date and original content regarding each of the SEC’s 20 sports, while doing our best to offer our own insight and behind-the-scenes approach to as many stories and possible.
We’re constantly bouncing ideas off one another and spend much of the day discussing the newsworthy items within the conference office and at each of our 12 member schools, working to find the best way to bring those stories to life on the SEC Digital Network. For some unknown reason throughout the entirety of the week, we kept saying to one another how the week seemed unusually quiet and the news cycle felt relatively slow for this time of year.
Not only that, but the weekend wasn’t customary for either of us. While Eric battled through food poisoning late Friday night and throughout the day on Saturday, I was out of town on those two days attending a family memorial service. For very different reasons, both of us were exhausted on Saturday night and neither of us was able to stay up to watch the evening’s SEC football contests.
When we were informed on Sunday that it would become official that Texas A&M would join the SEC as its 13th member, things suddenly became busy again.
As with any news related to the SEC, our goal was to provide the most comprehensive coverage possible on the SEC Digital Network. In addition to the official news release, we totaled six original news articles with everything you could possibly need to know about Texas A&M, including reaction pieces from several national writers.
While hopefully we were able to provide you with all the information you desired on Sunday, there’s nothing quite like being there in person. Yesterday, I joined 15 fellow representatives from the SEC office in traveling to College Station to witness the SEC Kick-Off Celebration in the Zone Club at Kyle Field.
The atmosphere created by the Texas A&M fans, band and yell leaders provided an incredibly unique and special environment. I enjoyed meeting a number of those who were on hand at the event and am excited to meet many more Texas A&M fans as we move closer to July 2012. But for many of you SEC fans who weren’t able to attend, I wanted to provide a first-hand account of what yesterday was like from my perspective.
2 p.m. CT
I met my fellow SEC staff members at the airport in Birmingham to embark on our flight to College Station. There was nothing but excitement in the air, most of us wondering what we could expect when we arrived at Texas A&M University. It would be just the third time in league history that the SEC would be adding an institution outside of its original charter members. Arkansas and South Carolina were the only two others, joining the league in 1992.
It was approximately a two-hour flight, but seemed to take hardly any time at all. Those of us on the trip passed the time talking about the great traditions that Texas A&M would be bringing to the SEC. Those traditions are one of the main reasons that the Aggies are a good fit for the league, and we all were excited to see the passion of the fan base in person.
For many of us, the idea of a celebration surrounding adding a new team to the conference was a new idea; one that was very exciting. For perspective, Associate Commissioner Mark Whitworth recollected the trip he took to Columbia, S.C., two decades earlier when South Carolina was accepted to the SEC, opining about how things have changed since that time.
Associate Commissioner Debbie Corum, Director of Championship Ticket Operations David Knight and I were mindful that the Aggie War Hymn would be sung at the evening’s celebration. We dedicated some time on the flight to going over the lyrics, practicing singing the tune and reading up on the song’s history.
4 p.m. CT
We arrived in College Station and the clear day afforded us the opportunity to see much of the campus and the town during our descent. Kyle Field was one of the first landmarks that we spotted from the air.
If it weren’t already apparent to us how ingrained the town and university were, it became evident when the door exiting the airport had a large sign above the door that read “Welcome to Aggieland.”
We were greeted by Jason Cook, Vice President for Marketing and Communications at Texas A&M and the Chief Communications Officer of the Texas A&M University System, and his wife Leann, a former SEC Office employee. Jason was a familiar face to many, having worked in Birmingham in the public relations arm of the HealthSouth Corporation from 1997-2003 and previously in athletics media relations at Mississippi State.
In the airport, a flock of excited SEC staffers gathered around Assistant Commissioner Gil Grimes when he pulled out two of the signs that he was tasked with bringing to College Station. At first glance, the circular signs looked no different than the SEC’s traditional pinwheel logo. But a deeper observation revealed a new-look logo. This pinwheel featured 13 spokes: a new one for Texas A&M.
It symbolized a new beginning.
4:30 p.m. CT
We boarded a small bus outside the airport and were off for a campus tour. The Cooks gave us a first-hand look at a number of the venues on and around campus, including the George Bush Presidential Library.
We drove by each of the school’s athletics venues and they were simply top-notch. Many of the facilities had hosted NCAA Championships in their respective sports and will prove to be a great addition for many of the neutral-site championships within the SEC in the coming years.
Jason informed us that Texas A&M is the sixth-largest university in the United States. A land-grand college, Texas A&M also features a handful of other universities in its system. David’s Twitter prowess shined during this bus tour as he was able to translate many of the interesting facts that Jason told us into 140 characters to share with SEC fans (follow him on Twitter @SEC_Knight
5:30 p.m. CT
We pulled up out front of the Zone Club at Kyle Field and all of the SEC staffers eagerly wanted to have their picture taken with the 12th Man statue, one of the most recognizable traditions at Texas A&M. For those who aren’t familiar with the legend of the 12th Man, please click here: http://aggietraditions.tamu.edu/team/12thman.html.
We got to take a group picture of the entire SEC staff in front of the statue. Personally, it’s a photo that I will treasure for a long time and I think many of my colleagues feel the same way, just thankful that we had the opportunity to be on hand for the special day.
Walking inside, a Texas A&M fan passing by spotted Commissioner Mike Slive and, bubbling over with excitement, asked the Commissioner for an autograph. He graciously obliged, chatting with the fan before heading inside.
I wasn’t expecting the reception that we received. Walking into the building, a large crowd of Aggie fans had assembled in the lobby. They were applauding and cheering as we walked into the boardroom for a small reception. The official celebration wouldn’t begin for another half-hour, but the fans were already there to commemorate the special occasion.
We had the opportunity to meet Texas A&M President Dr. R. Bowen Loftin and a handful of administrators and Board of Regents members. Dr. Loftin and Commissioner Slive expressed their gratitude for one another and a number of key people who played parts in completing the move before we headed upstairs for the celebration.
6 p.m. CT
Two flights of escalators lead the way to the Zone Club and you could feel the excitement as we headed up those escalators. As we made our final ascent to the club level, I just knew that a special environment awaited us.
In front of me, Commissioner Slive and Texas A&M athletics director Bill Byrne discussed their long-standing relationship and recollected past committees on which they had served together. When we got to the top of the escalator, the scene was overwhelming.
The Aggie Band was playing in full force, fans were applauding and you could tell that we were on the brink of experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Byrne opened up the celebration by introducing Loftin, Florida president Bernie Machen – chair of the SEC Presidents and Chancellors – and Slive.
If you thought for a moment that the move to the SEC would be something that Texas A&M fans would still be processing, think again. Nothing could have seemed more natural.
“Howdy Aggieland,” Slive said, verbalizing his greeting in traditional Aggie vernacular. “Welcome to the SEC.”
His greeting was met with awe-inspiring applause, as was seemingly everything else on Monday evening. Slive touched on the similarities between Texas A&M and the SEC, demonstrating what a perfect and natural fit the move would be, not that the Aggie fans needed any convincing.
“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.”
When it came time for the Aggie War Hymn, it was a good thing we practiced on the way there. Debbie, new Assistant Commissioner Leslie Claybrook and I were ready to sing along, even linking up to swing and sway to the “Saw Varsity’s Horns” part. The song was new to us, but joining the faithful in the Zone Club to sign and sway seemed incredibly natural.
6:40 p.m. CT
While some of the Texas A&M staff switched over the podium setting from the celebration to the press conference, I had the opportunity to meet a couple of Aggie fans who said they followed the SEC Digital Network on Twitter. I was pleased to hear they had been following us and enjoyed meeting them in person.
The press conference consisted of Byrne, Loftin, Machen and Slive answering a host of questions. Here are a couple of selected quotes from the press conference:
Commissioner Mike Slive: “We have been very strategic and thoughtful about when we think about expansion. When A&M expressed interest in us, we felt by any measure it was a good fit, so we moved ahead.”
Bill Byrne: “If we were not able to play in the SEC right now, I'm not certain we'd be going there.
The progress that our teams have made has been incredible. I am so pleased, not with just what our football program has done, but you look at these national championship trophies out here, we can compete in the SEC.”
Dr. Bernie Machen: “I believe if you look closely at the academic components of both of our institutions, you will find an amazing amount of overlap. I am so comfortable having an institution as good as this one be a partner in our league. I think all the other presidents and chancellors feel exactly the same way.”
Dr. Bowen Loftin: “We just think the fit with the SEC is extraordinarily good. We believe our visibility as an institution, our athletes here at Texas A&M will be much higher within the SEC conference right now. So that's why we're doing it.”
7:15 p.m. CT
A brief walk from Kyle Field landed us at the J. Earl Rudder Tower, where we made our way to the University Club on the 11th floor. A nice dinner awaited and we had the opportunity to meet several members of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents.
A dinner of beef, sweet potatoes, salad, green beans, rolls and key lime pie made us all happy. Lofton and Slive each spoke briefly at the dinner, recognizing those individuals who played key roles in helping to make Texas A&M to the SEC a reality. Each member of the SEC office received a small gift bag consisting of a few items, including a 12th Man towel, from the folks at Texas A&M.
Commissioner Slive unveiled the newest SEC cap, which featured a maroon and white SEC circle logo on the front and the name Texas A&M on the back. It was greeted with a warm round of applause and hats were given out to each of the Texas A&M staff and regents members on hand at the event.
11:01 p.m. CT
We landed back in Birmingham after a long but extremely exciting day. I kept thinking on my drive home how the events of the previous several hours had been among some of the best and most rewarding in my eight years working in the field of intercollegiate athletics.
Personally, I left Birmingham earlier that afternoon not knowing what to expect when I arrived in College Station. I returned home feeling like Texas A&M had been a member of this conference for years. The town, the university and the traditions all seemed so familiar to what we are used to in this league.
I think SEC fans will really enjoy the opportunity to welcome Texas A&M to the league over the next year. Soon enough, I believe it will be hard to remember an SEC that didn’t consist of the Aggies.
For today, Gig ‘em.