By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Texas A&M is one step closer to leaving the Big 12 after informing officials Wednesday morning it plans to begin the application process to join "another conference." And, if the application is accepted, its run in the Big 12 will end June 30, 2012.
The landing point, of course, is expected to be the Southeastern Conference — a move that would reunite Arkansas with one of its Southwest Conference rivals.
But Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino didn’t have any time to consider the ramifications of the potential addition to the 12-team conference Monday morning. Instead, he had something else on his mind: Arkansas’ opener against Missouri State in Razorback Stadium on Saturday night.
"I don’t really don’t have a lot of thoughts on Texas A&M," Petrino said. "I think it would be very premature for me to discuss anything about that. My focus is on getting better this afternoon in practice."
That may be, but Texas A&M’s big step was the dominant topic of discussion around college football on Wednesday. While the 2011 season kicks off tonight, the future of the conference with the possibility of a Texas team moving into the fold was in the spotlight.
Arkansas officials wouldn’t discuss the matter Wednesday. Athletic director Jeff Long was not available for comment. Chancellor David Gearhart did not return messages seeking comment. Spokesperson Kevin Trainor said any comment can be anticipated "if and when an institution is officially a member of the SEC."
There will be at least one issue for Arkansas and Texas A&M to resolve if the Aggies are welcomed in. The schools meet annually in a nonconference game played in Arlington, Texas, a 10-year agreement that began in 2009 and pays each school roughly $5 million annually.
It’s not known if the series would remain at the neutral site after this season’s game, much like the annual Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville, Fla. Or if the schools would move it to campus. Those decisions would be made when and if Texas A&M’s move is official.
Meanwhile, several other coaches offered their thoughts on Texas A&M during Wednesday’s SEC teleconference.
"If that comes to fruition, that A&M joins the SEC, we’ll certainly welcome them," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "They’re a big-time institution. Excellent athletic departments. All their sports are very good. I think their girls basketball won the national championship last year. So they will be a huge addition to the SEC. To get into Texas, it really just increases the SEC TV markets and all that stuff."
The move could help open the doors to Texas recruiting for schools as well, according to several coaches.
LSU’s Les Miles, Ole Miss’ Houston Nutt and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen all indicated the addition of Texas A&M could help their recruiting efforts. It means Arkansas, which has relied heavily on Texas recruits, may not be alone in mining through the state.
"Certainly we would think the Texas student-athletes would have an opportunity to see themselves attending SEC schools," Miles said. "Hopefully this would give us an opportunity to be ... even more serious about those guys that are participating in football in Texas."
The Razorbacks have 23 players, including 14 scholarship players, on their 2011 roster from the state of Texas. It includes key players like safety Tramain Thomas, running back Knile Davis, cornerback Isaac Madison and wide receiver Cobi Hamilton.
But Petrino doesn’t believe Texas A&M’s addition to the SEC would hurt Arkansas’ recruiting efforts.
"Well, we’re always going to recruit the state of Texas," Petrino said Wednesday. "We’ve had good success there the last three years. We’re going to work hard to recruit the best players in the country."
Jackie Sherrill, who coached at Mississippi State and Texas A&M during his career, even told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger he believes the addition of the Aggies would help Arkansas more than any other schools.
"It opens up Texas for Mississippi State and Arkansas," Sherrill told the Clarion-Ledger. "The team that will benefit the most is Arkansas, because Arkansas, when they were fighting for national championships, the majority of their players came out of Texas."
If the SEC is, in fact, Texas A&M’s destination, the timeline for the application process is not known. It must be approved by nine of the SEC’s 12 schools, something that appears to be a formality to most.
"I can understand why everybody wants to come to our conference," Nutt said. "I can understand why they want to get in. The stadiums are full. You’re on TV every game. Not just some game, every game. It’s just a competitive, competitive conference. It’s one of the best, if not the best, conferences in America."