New Big 12 a big bummer for some, anger at Texas A&M at missed chance to escape Longhorns

By Jim Vertuno, AP
Friday, June 18, 2010

New Big 12 a big bummer for some fans in Texas

AUSTIN, Texas — After all the congratulations and relief about rescuing the Big 12 and those sweeping promises of big payouts, fans at Texas and Texas A&M still can’t help but feel disappointed.

Tantalized by the prospect of heading off to exotic new playgrounds in the Pac-10 and the football-crazy Southeastern Conference, Longhorns and Aggies fans are looking at more road trips through the wind-swept heartland of America.

At Texas, the decision to keep the status quo means the Longhorns are still the big dog in the Big 12, but they already were. Staying put in a Big 12 that will soon be without Nebraska and Colorado feels a bit hollow.

Aggies fans, meanwhile, have lit up Texas A&M online message boards and radio shows, angry that they purportedly missed a chance to join the most powerful football conference in the land in the SEC and get out from under Texas’ considerable shadow.

“They felt like something was just ripped away from them,” said Billy Liucci, owner and editor of the popular A&M fan site, who happens to like A&M’s position in the leaner Big 12. “It’s the most emotionally charged reaction to anything around here since I don’t know when.”

A profane e-mail to Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne prompted him to respond with an angry voice mail.

“Someone who has the no guts to write something like that needs to have his (expletive) kicked,” the 65-year-old Byrne said in the call, which was posted on Byrne later issued a 1,700-word statement defending the Aggies’ decision to stay in the Big 12 and apologized for the outburst.

“After reading over 200 similar e-mails the other night, I finally had one set me off and I called the writer. I’m a very competitive person and like many of you, I was raised not to back down when challenged. I’ve also got a bit of an Irish temper which came across in my voicemail. I regretted what I said as soon as I hung up. I should have been above that, and I made a mistake. For those of you who were offended by my response, I apologize, and I assure you that it will not happen again,” Byrne wrote.

Aggies officials have tried to soothe upset fans by talking about the money, suggesting new TV deals will perhaps double the $9.2 million paid out to the school by the Big 12 in 2009-10..

“The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of speculation,” Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said in a message to Aggies fans. “The Big 12 made a significant financial commitment to keep Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Texas in the conference. At the end of the day, we kept our word, which as an Aggie, is extremely important.”

But it’s about more than money for many Aggies fans.

Texas, the richest and most powerful school in the Big 12, has long cast a long shadow over College Station. Many Texas A&M fans saw the SEC as a way to strike out on their own, even at the risk of ending 100-plus years of rivalry.

“A&M fans love the rivalry. There’s nothing that makes us Aggies happier in sports than beating Texas, I don’t care what sport,” Liucci said. “(But) A&M fans, they were fine with taking that risk.”

The debate was so hot last week that Gov. Rick Perry, an Aggie who has been in office long enough to appoint every regent to both schools, decided it was best that he stay quiet.

In Austin, Texas fans were gripped by breathless reports that Texas was leaving for the Pac-10. Some wanted to stay, others were ready to go.

“I think there was a lot of excitement about the process and you all helped feed that, I appreciate that,” Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds told reporters.

Austin radio talk show host Ed Clements said he hears from Longhorns fans who like staying in a league that promises an even fatter wallet and in theory puts them closer each year to a BCS bowl and the national championship.

But he also hears from fans disappointed they won’t get side trips to California beaches and Disneyland out of the deal.

Just about everyone wants Texas to schedule better non-conference opponents.

“They want Notre Dame, Michigan or somebody really, really good,” Clements said. “They say they’re paying high ticket prices but are sick and tired of just seeing Iowa State, Missouri and Kansas.”

Texas already has UCLA on the schedule the next two seasons and BYU comes to Austin in 2011. In 2012, Wyoming, Mississippi and Texas-El Paso make up the non-conference slate.

Texas football coach Mack Brown said he thinks Texas fans will like the new Big 12.

“It was best for our fans. A lot of people got excited about some of the (possible) games. We can schedule those games still,” Brown said.

will not be displayed