No matter what administrators say, I'm not holding my breath on Texas A&M and Texas to renew their rivalry
I’ll be real with you. I took Chris Del Conte’s comments out of context Tuesday.
When the Texas athletic director spoke about nonconference matchups during an appearance on 247sports’ Texas Tailgate show on Tuesday, this was the first tweet I saw.
Like many, I had a snarky response to this comment:
Chris Del Conte on returning rivalries with either Texas A&M, LSU or Arkansas: Our goal is to play non-conference teams that have won championships in the modern era of College Football.
— Taylor Gaspar Estes (@TaylorEstes247) May 5, 2020
Del Conte had more to say on the subject than just that. Admittedly, I should have read these comments before making fun of his program’s 7-year streak of losing at least 1 September nonconference game (that wasn’t that snarky).
“As far as playing A&M, and I will tell you this, I was not here and I don’t have the history and the angst of what transpired, but those type of games that make you visceral hate each other, are what makes college football, great, great,” Del Conte continued. “And I do believe the game should be played. I really do. Not because of history, but I know Alabama didn’t play Auburn for 40 years. Can you imagine that playing the Iron Bowl? Makes no sense.
“But it is what it is, right? And you have politics involved, you have hurt feelings, you have all kinds of things … ”
I’ll give Del Conte some credit for actually addressing the issue. It is an issue. These schools have each other’s names in their fight songs. They should be playing football against each other every year.
But if seeing a message like that made you believe that this rivalry is getting closer to becoming renewed, well, sorry. It’s not happening.
I hate to be a buzzkill. I really do. If you read between the lines in that comment from Del Conte, you can spot the same issues that are preventing this rivalry from being decided on the field, instead of with jabs via Bevo’s poop bucket.
Bevo’s manure bucket has an A&M logo and says “13th Man” 🐂💩😂 pic.twitter.com/tTEGQQHxiT
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) September 22, 2019
Petty. So petty.
Grudges are indeed petty. A&M’s departure from the Big 12 for the SEC created a rift that has been in place for close to a decade now. That dates to the creation of the Longhorn Network and the belief that the Big 12 was a sinking ship that A&M wanted to jump off.
Texas and A&M picked a pretty inopportune time not to talk to one other. The beginning of the Playoff era in 2014 prompted a surge in future scheduling. There’s a reason when the idea of renewing the rivalry was discussed in 2018, A&M couldn’t make it work.
“I think I had the conversation, a year ago, 2 years ago, when we had an opening and I asked (Texas A&M), ‘Hey, we have an opening in ’22, ’23,’ and I reached out and asked if they’d be interested in doing that rivalry game at the time,” Del Conte told 247sports. “And A&M said, ‘Hey we have no – we’re booked right now.’ And I said OK and I looked at where we were and I promptly looked at, why we have to create great games at home and add incredible value to our season ticket package.”
That wasn’t news. At least it shouldn’t have been news to anyone who remembered what former Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward said a couple of years ago when asked about why he turned down a home-and-home series against the Longhorns (via the Houston Chronicle):
“We were already booked. We’re booked 10 years out. He had an opening at the time, and it suited him, but it didn’t suit us.”
They’re both booked. Big time.
Check out each team’s future slate of nonconference Power 5 opponents the next decade or so:
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Find the year in which this matchup can happen. On paper, maybe the optimism would look at that and say, “well, why can’t they just cancel a 2028 matchup and take the financial hit?”
There a couple of reasons. What’s the motivation for Texas to tell Georgia to take a hike? The Longhorns will sell out that game easily, and it’ll be a massive game on the college football calendar. Paying a 7-figure buyout to not play a game of that magnitude seems silly. Like, picture if Texas pulled the plug on that LSU home-and-home just so that it could find a way to play A&M. What’s the urgency?
Teams are willing to take the financial hit for a nonconference buyout when it can greatly benefit their schedule, and it’s an obvious upgrade for both parties.
For example, go back to 2016 when Michigan canceled its Arkansas series. Why? Well, the Wolverines wanted to renew their rivalry with Notre Dame. The Irish had an opening, and it took Michigan deciding that a $2 million buyout to Arkansas was worth it.
There are other creative ways to make some room on the schedule. In 2017, TCU and Ohio State agreed to turn a home-and-home series into 1 neutral-site game played in Dallas. The Horned Frogs admittedly didn’t want consecutive years of an Ohio State roadblock in their path to a Playoff berth. Who was behind that decision, you ask? It was Del Conte, the then-TCU athletic director and current Texas AD.
Del Conte made that decision because of what he felt was best for the Playoff era. That’s exactly what he did after he was hired by Texas in December 2017. With the possibility of Playoff expansion in 2024, the rush to add as many home-and-homes possible ensued:
- May, 2018: Texas announces home-and-home with Alabama
- May, 2018: Texas pushes back home-and-home with Ohio State to accommodate for Alabama series
- Nov. 2018: Texas announces home-and-home with Georgia
- May, 2019: Texas announces home-and-home with Florida
- May, 2019: Texas announces home-and-home with Arizona State
That’s a decade’s worth of nonconference matchups that Del Conte set up a year and a half after taking over in Austin. None with A&M.
But, in 2019, when Del Conte set up the home-and-home with Florida, what did A&M have on the schedule in 2030 and 2031? Nothing. Even if Florida called Texas about the home-and-home — something that seems totally believable given that Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin literally tweeted suggestions for Florida’s future home-and-homes — why didn’t Del Conte say, “we’re actually holding out hope that we set something up with A&M those years when they aren’t booked.”
Well, I have a theory. Woodward was in the midst of leaving A&M for LSU in April of 2019. In fact, that announcement came roughly 3 weeks before we heard about the Longhorns scheduling Florida and Arizona State.
How does Woodward’s successor (Ross Bjork) feel about the idea of renewing the rivalry with Texas? Uh, not thrilled, it seems:
A&M AD Ross Bjork on playing Texas: “our position remains the same that we’re focused on other things right now and if that happens, let’s make it happen in the playoff.”
— Mark Passwaters (@mbpRivals) May 5, 2020
Why say that? My best guess is that there are some important people in Aggieland who would still prefer not to help Texas sell tickets anytime soon. Risking that internal support doesn’t make as much sense for A&M when there’s no clear path for the rivalry to be renewed in the 2020s.
Besides politics and hurt feelings, it’s scheduling that’s at the root of this divide.
It would be foolish for a Big 12 team with Playoff aspirations like Texas to add multiple Power 5 teams to nonconference play when it has a 9-game conference schedule. Why play 11 Power 5 teams when most SEC and ACC teams only play 9? That’s why Texas having a Power 5 nonconference game scheduled each of the next 14 years is, um, unfortunate.
Well, it’s unfortunate for those of us who would prefer to not go 20-plus years between matchups of one of the sport’s better rivalries.
I have another theory. It involves Del Conte. This time, I have more context to make a snarky remark.
My guess is that he knows there’s an extremely slim chance of this happening for the foreseeable future. It’s smart of him to say that he wants the matchup to resume. Why? It makes it seem like the ball is in A&M’s court, and it’s the Aggies who just want to take their ball and go home. For all the recruiting battles in the Lone Star State, Del Conte publicly saying that he’s open to renewing the rivalry makes the Aggies look like they’re the ones who are afraid of big, bad Texas.
Is that smart on his part? Absolutely. His comments make it look like A&M is depriving Texans and all of college football of this rivalry. What gets lost in those comments is both teams didn’t prioritize each other. Del Conte knows when A&M is booked or not booked. All of us do (fbsschedules.com is a fantastic tool that I use all the time).
Sadly, this rivalry has become more about who can say the right thing at the right time instead of who can actually beat one another where it counts. That’ll continue to be the case unless both programs suddenly decide that they’re willing to move (scheduling) mountains to make it happen.
In the meantime, college football fans will have to settle for trolling poop buckets.