The Texas-Texas A&M rivalry is back on–at least, on the baseball diamond.
Always loving a dramatic sub-plot, the NCAA tournament selection committee pitted the two longtime, bitter rivals against one another in the upcoming baseball playoffs. Perhaps this is a step toward thawing the icy relationship between two football programs with a rich history and undeniable distaste for one another–the two necessary ingredients for the perfect college football rivalry.
The football series went dormant after its 118th installment in 2011, and the two Thanksgivings without an Aggies-Longhorns clash is two too many. TCU and Texas Tech have filled that date on Texas’ schedule the last two seasons, while Texas A&M faced Missouri in a former Big 12 series-turned-manufactured SEC “rivalry.” A&M meets LSU this year on the final regular season weekend.
With all due respect to TCU, Texas Tech, LSU and Missouri, their playing the Longhorns and Aggies on Thanksgiving weekend is just wrong.
New Texas athletic director Steve Patterson said per ESPN.com rekindling the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry “[is] not at the top of my list. I’m really more focused on how we grow the footprint of the department.”
Growing the brand is precisely what turned this relationship acrimonious–at least, acrimonious for different reasons than it was previously.
The launch of the Longhorn Network–a key linchpin in Texas remaining with the Big 12–alienated certain league counterparts. Among them was Texas A&M.
Despite recent on-field struggles, Texas remains the preeminent program of the Big 12. The success of the Longhorn Network from a viewership perspective is debatable, but its impact on Texas’ bottom line is decidedly positive. It’s helped make Texas the most profitable per NerdWallet.com.
Both sides have moved on. Texas A&M is embracing its status in the SEC, where in its first season, Kevin Sumlin led it to 11 wins behind the program’s first Heisman Trophy recipient in 55 years. Johnny Manziel’s highlight-reel performances undoubtedly got a boost from coming on the grand stage of Southeastern Conference football, and the Aggies have prospered out of Texas’ shadow.
Yes, each side of the once-heated Texas-Texas A&M rivalry is just fine without the other. But their successes apart and history together don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The two programs are similar to the romantic interests of a (Longhorn fan) Matthew McConaughey rom-com: They may drive each other nuts, but the audience knows that’s only further evidence the two belong together.
A new scheduling decree in the SEC mandates every member must face at least one nonconference opponent from one of the power-five leagues. A&M has notable dates with Pac-12 members Arizona State and UCLA lined up, but reigniting the series with Texas guarantees the Aggies a quality nonconference game each year, and ensures their strength of schedule for College Football Playoff purposes.
Moreover, this would hardly put the Aggies in exclusive company. Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all close out their regular seasons with nonconference dates against power-conference opponents.
If the SEC doesn’t force the programs’ hands, maybe the Texas legislature will. A bill introduced last year could actually mandate a game between the programs.
But if even the state government can’t reignite the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry on the gridiron, perhaps this encounter in the baseball tournament will remind both sides what they’re missing.