Charlie Strong wants it. Kevin Sumlin says, “I think the Texas series will happen. I just don’t know when.” So just why in the world can’t the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry make a comeback?
That’s a rhetorical question. The truth is, lingering hostility exists between Texas and Texas A&M suits over the former virtually taking the Big 12 hostage five years ago while negotiating its TV revenue distribution. In turn, A&M split for the SEC in 2012, which left Texas feeling slighted.
Longhorn AD Steve Patterson explained in a lengthy Q&A with OrangeBloods.com’s Anwar Richardson. You really need to read the whole thing, which delves into topics other than the dormant rivalry. But here’s the gem on Texas vs. Texas A&M:
Q: Staying in the state of Texas, I have to ask you a blunt question: What’s going on with your program and Texas A&M? Can this rivalry ever been renewed? Why does Florida play Florida State, Alabama plays Auburn, UCLA plays USC, and why does Texas not play Texas A&M?
A: Some of those schools you’ve mentioned are still in the same conferences they’ve been in for 90 years.
Q: Florida and Florida State are not in the same conference. Everybody is just used to having the big in-state rivalry game.
A: The reality is I’ve been talking about this for a year (he jokingly said).
Q: And you’re going to get asked about it until it happens.
A: Texas A&M made a decision to leave the conference. They felt that was in their best interest? Fine, God bless them…For us, we want to maximize what we can do building a brand. If you’re going to schedule the top schools, you want to make sure you schedule the USCs, the Notre Dames, the Ohio States and the Michigans, the kinds of schools we’ve been scheduling. You want to make sure you can recruit certain parts of the country besides Texas. Everybody knows we’re here in Texas. Nobody is overlooking it. You look at the New York Times article from a couple of months ago, it breaks out every single zip code in the country, and what is the number one, two or three school in every zip code. For virtually most of the state, we’re in the top three. Most of the state, we’re number one. People aren’t overlooking us in our own backyard, but you want to have a presence in southern California.
Patterson’s assessment runs contradictory to that of Charlie Strong, who told ESPN.com’s Chris Low he’s all for restoring the historic rivalry.
Over 100 years, we’ve played that game. Why stop it now because we’re in different conferences? At some point, when it’s right for everybody with the different schedules, I would love to play Texas A&M again.
So Strong — the man actually responsible for recruiting vis a vis “the brand” — sees no harm in playing a nonconference game against an in-state opponent. Huh. How ’bout that?
And while Patterson’s rhetoric about expanding the brand into, say, Southern California holds some merit, we’re not talking about a program like Tennessee, which has a shallow, local recruiting pool relative to its SEC counterparts. Other programs are trying to build their brands into Texas because it’s such a rich recruiting pipeline — including Southern California-based UCLA.
Texas A&M similarly bolstered its nonconference schedule in the coming years with games against Pac-12 programs looking to make a mark in the Lone Star State. Among them is Arizona State, with native Texan head coach Todd Graham. Southern California was long the primary pipeline into Tempe for past Sun Devil coaches, and it remains a key cog.
However, Graham has gone into Texas aggressively to bolster Arizona State’s recruiting profile within the Pac-12 footprint.
No, getting out of Texas isn’t what’s preventing this rivalry from renewing. It’s pettiness.
The off-field slap-fighting that’s replaced one of the game’s oldest and most intense rivalries is a cheap imitation. Sure, Texas A&M scheduling LSU for Thanksgiving Day opposite the Texas-TCU game meant more holiday football. But neither contest could match the intensity or pageantry of the old Texas-Texas A&M Thanksgiving encounters.
However, A&M-LSU and Texas-TCU games are not nearly as sub-par an imitation for Texas-Texas A&M as is trading the rivalry’s helmets and shoulder pads for suits and ties. The administrators need to get over their petty squabbles and appease everyone involved — including their own head coaches.