Well, it's finally here. It's a week that most A&M fans have been looking forward to since last summer, and for others, even longer. It almost happened in the early 90's, and then almost again in 2010. Now, this Sunday, it will finally happen. The Aggies will officially, finally, become members of the Southeastern Conference.
For most, July 1st isn't anything special. After all, A&M and the SEC have been engaged since last September. After that drama, the official vows are far less entertaining. On the hand however, there are the fans that view the date as the final mark of their breaking away from the A&M of old. For them, this Sunday is more than just the signing on the dotted line. For them, it's nothing short of a full-on Texas A&M independence day.
Goodbye to the old...
Without the dramatics of bidding farewell to rivalries that we all know are destined to be rekindled, there are definitely things that we're all going to miss about the Big 12 Conference. For one, Oklahoma City. OKC has obviously played host to a number of Big 12 Championships, but it also serves as the launch pad for A&M fans attending games in both Norman and Stillwater. From midnight yell on the steps at Coach's in Bricktown, to the Chicken and Waffles and Mama E's, the trips to Oklahoma City are certainly one of the things I'll always remember.
Allen Fieldhouse. Though it's certainly possible the Aggies could someday return to the best basketball venue in America, it probably won't be any time soon. For those that never had the opportunity to make the trip, you missed the best in-game atmosphere of any sport in the conference. There's simply nothing else like it. The Aggies will head to Rupp Arena at some point, but good luck Wildcat fans, beating the atmosphere of Lawrence, Kansas is going to be tough to do.
There are a number of coaches that A&M fans loved to hate, namely Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, but it's not like Aggie fans are going to stop watching football. Though, now that they won't be in the same conference, most A&M fans would probably rather see Oklahoma State win the Big 12 than most of the other teams in it.
For now, it's also farewell to the Baylor Bears and George's Bar. Even though I believe that A&M and Texas will almost have to rekindle their rivalry on the field before long, it's hard to imagine a scenario where they'll play Baylor in football again.
However, we can only hope that cooler heads prevail and the two meet on the basketball court. There are just too many reasons they should play. (Namely, that both teams struggle to fill their arenas for non-conference games.) There may be no coach that A&M fans truly hate like Scott Drew, and the A&M/Baylor basketball rivalry is the best on-court rivalry either school has going. No two fan groups in the country spend as much time vehemently trying to pretend they don't pay attention to one another like A&M and Baylor basketball fans.
Hello to the new...
All of that said, there's no doubt that from a writer's perspective, there is going to be a lot to write about over the next few years. Every college sports writer in the country is going to have something to say about A&M's SEC debut against Florida. For me though, the biggest game on the schedule is October 20th, the day the Aggies play host to their new rivals from Louisiana. Florida fans will travel to College Station, but it will pale in comparison to the cajun invasion that's coming later in the year, and that's the intriguiing part of that game.
A&M and LSU are old school rivals. Enemies from a time before the Big 12 ever existed and the Southwest Conference was a national power. But this isn't the same A&M as it used to be. How Aggie fans and Tiger fans interact with each other on that weekend is going to set the stage for what both schools hope will once again become one of the nation's premier rivalries.
Then, of course, there's the road trips. From the Grove at Ole Miss, to the gameday scene in Tuscaloosa, and the fanaticism of Kentucky basketball fans. We're all going to be experiencing it first-hand for the first time. That's the excitement of this whole move though, the unknown. A&M knows what's behind them, and decided that path had run its course.
They were never going to surpass, or even equal, the Texas Longhorns as the premiere team in Texas in the Big 12 long term. Outside of the state, they had a hard time distinguishing their own brand even from that of Texas Tech. Outsiders often get the two confused. But not any more.
There are obvious challenges still to be met, and of course there is no guarantee for success. There's a chance that twenty years from now everybody will look back on July 1st, 2012 and wonder what the Aggies were thinking. A chance that A&M isn't ready to compete in the SEC and ends up mired in the same mediocrity and coaching turnover that they've been in for over a decade. But what if they don't?
What if this really is the start of A&M's rise to national prominence? What if A&M goes into the SEC, and competes right away in the top half of the league? That mild success could give the A&M coaches all the proof they need to recruit the top talent in Texas to the nation's best conference. From there, anything is possible.
Whichever way things go, this Sunday is always going to be looked at as a turning point in A&M's history. As for the rest, we'll have to wait and see.