There are those who seem underwhelmed by what Texas A&M is bringing to the table if, as expected, the Big 12 defectors are soon to join the SEC.
Those doubters are wrong. If the Southeastern Conference is going to expand, Texas A&M is — choose your sports metaphor — a slam dunk, a grand slam, a Hail Mary touchdown pass.
1.) A&M is really good at sports.
All this talk about how the Aggies are doomed to mediocrity in the big, bad SEC is bunk. In the 2010-11 school year, Texas A&M went to the Cotton Bowl in football. It made the NCAA men's basketball tournament. The Aggies advanced to the College World Series in baseball. In women's basketball, A&M cut down the nets after winning the national title.
Overall, Texas A&M finished eighth in the nation in the Director's Cup standings, a measurement of the strength of an entire athletics department. Among current SEC members, only Florida (fourth) did better.
2.) A&M would boost the SEC's academic standing (and the SEC could really use that).
In U.S. News & World Report's ranking of national universities, Texas A&M was 63rd. That is higher than every existing Southeastern Conference School other than Vanderbilt (17th), Florida (53rd) and Georgia (56).
A&M is one of 61 members in the prestigious Association of American Universities, which consists of the leading public and private research universities in the United States and Canada. Presently, Vandy and Florida are the only SEC members included in the group (by contrast, 11 of the 12 Big Ten schools are members).
3.) A&M dramatically enhances the SEC's "television footprint."
Of the top 50 TV markets in the United States, four — No. 4. Dallas/Ft. Worth, No. 10 Houston, No. 37 San Antonio and No. 49 Austin — are in the Lone Star State.
Can you imagine what all those potential Texas eyeballs will mean to SEC television rights fees going forward?
4.) A&M brings rich, if quirky, sports traditions that will enrich the SEC.
From the Twelfth Man constantly standing at the ready to the Midnight Yell before each home game to the Corps of Cadets, Texas A&M has one of the most unique cultures in all of college sports.
Why Reveille VIII, the collie that is the A&M mascot, will even give Georgia's Uga some canine competition.
I'm not the only one in these parts bullish on the Aggies, either.
Former University of Kentucky basketball coach Joe B. Hall spent time in College Station in the early 1980s when one of his son-in-laws, Mike Summers (the current UK offensive line coach) was a graduate assistant at Texas A&M.
"I love the Aggies," Hall said last week. "There is so much tradition on that campus, so many things that make it different and special. I always thought when I was coaching, that if I wasn't at Kentucky, the one place I'd want to go is Texas A&M."
Hall, 82, says that when and if A&M joins the SEC, then the first time Kentucky travels to College Station to play "that is a trip I will definitely make. It's a place just full of great traditions. It's a real cool place."
One of the under-appreciated aspects that makes sports in Kentucky special is the long history of outstanding small-college basketball in our state.
The commonwealth has quite an honor roll: Kentucky Wesleyan with its eight NCAA Division II titles. Kentucky State and the legacy of Travis Grant and Elmore Smith winning NAIA national titles.
Right now, our state boasts the reigning NAIA Division I men's national champion, Pikeville, and the NCAA Division II king, Bellarmine.
Which brings us to Happy Osborne. Over the past 15 seasons, Osborne produced a year-in, year-out juggernaut at Georgetown College.
Small-college sports tend to operate outside the brights lights of the media glare, so I'm not sure Osborne, who recently left Georgetown to become associate head coach at Tennessee Tech, got enough respect for what he did.
As Al Gore might say, Happy's numbers were staggering: A record of 456-81 with an NAIA national title (1998) and multiple appearances in the NAIA national semifinals.
"There's not a better coach in college coaching at any level," said Pikeville's Kelly Wells of Osborne. "You look at his records, the quickness at which he reached his (win levels), it's unreal. We competed like crazy, but at the end of the day, we were always friends. I'm going to miss him."
From a distance it looks like Osborne, 53, won so much at Georgetown (30.4 wins a season), the school began to take it a bit for granted.
At a time when small-college hoops in our state is as competitive as it has ever been, Georgetown announced it was considering ending the practice of granting athletics scholarships and exploring the option of going to NCAA Division III.
Would Osborne have left if the specter of non-scholarship sports had not been raised?
"No, I wouldn't have," he said. "But — and I mean this sincerely — I'm not bitter, I'm not mad at anyone. You can't have a better experience than I had living and coaching in Georgetown. Sometimes, it's time to try something new."
Osborne's former assistant, Chris Briggs, has been promoted to replace him. However he fares, college basketball in Kentucky will not be quite as interesting without Happy Osborne pacing the sidelines in our state.
Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or firstname.lastname@example.org.