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July 01, 2012
It's Official: In leaving for SEC, A&M is coming home
photo: Beau Holder, TexAgs.com
A family of Auburn fans flashes a Gig'em before the Auburn-Mississippi State game, September 2011.
 
Once upon a time, I called South Carolina and Georgia home.

Though a born-and-raised Texan, and damn proud of it, I have experienced my own taste of life in SEC country and known well the feeling of growing up in the region. The Atlantic side of the Deep South shaped the back two-thirds of my adolescence, all through high school, where I graduated in Kingsland, Ga. Its touch lingers with me to this day.

But the years passed, as they always do; my friends and I graduated, parting ways at life's fork and heading off to college all over this land many call 'SEC country.' To Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Florida, UGA, Auburn and LSU they all went. Me? I came home to call myself an Aggie.

At the time there was never a thought given to the idea of residing in a conference other than the Big 12. There was no Legend of the Bowtie. Not yet. R. Bowen Loftin sat as merely the school's interim president and the bulk of Mike Sherman's tenure in Aggieland had yet to play out.

Funny how times change. On this long-awaited date, SEC country has annexed the great State of Texas; Texas A&M is headed to the greenest of pastures. This conference, with these people, on this road ahead ... it's exactly where A&M belongs.

Andrew Kilzer, TexAgs Free at last, A&M will finally get to assume the cultural unity it shares with its new brethren in the League of Champions.
Ags, welcome home.

So many have discussed the obvious advantages to the move for the Aggies — financially, competitively, increased exposure. For all those reasons and more, the move was a no-brainer.

But the true beauty in the new conference home, the perfect fit lost in the shuffle, is the cultural cohesion A&M is about to slip into.

A new generation of Aggies will grow up looking at Arkansas and LSU, maybe even South Carolina, in a similar fashion to the way A&M's old Big 12 rivals were seen. The annoyance and contempt engendered by the antics of Baylor and Texas Tech, the loathing Texas brought on itself with its air of superiority and selfish maneuvering, will cede way to the kind of old-fashioned, between-the-lines hatred bred from respect and competition with high stakes.

What will be lost is the familiarity, the in-state battles, the way everyone knew groups of friends that went to BU, and Tech, and Texas.

But see, that's just the thing about the SEC. It's not about one state, or specific histories between a pair of schools. It's about a shared culture — the culture of the South. There is no awkward assembly of four Texas schools with the old Big Eight, transmuted into a conference functioning out of necessity, bereft of camaraderie. This is a region with its own history, its own nearly homogeneous blend of tradition and morality.

The values represented along the line of SEC schools from Louisiana to the Atlantic Ocean aligns with what Aggies believe in on a level that the products of Austin, Waco and Lubbock never could. The hypocrisy exuded by Baylor, Texas' constant self-aggrandizement veiled by silver tongues, that won't be found here. The people who grew up in this area, who make their homes here, never pretend to be something they're not. They abhor the idea.

It's a culture of levying appropriate hate when the game rolls around, yet sharing a beer or three before and after. It's a habit of rolling up one's sleeves in the morning, then going out on the boat that evening, not deigning to hold grudges over life's trivialities.

It's a region-wide environment of assumed meritocracy, where a man and a school alike earn their stripes the right way rather than through spin, loopholes and usurpation. It's a religious land with a deep, deep respect for those who serve in the armed forces, something A&M is quite familiar with. And it's a group of people that, when they choose what to be dedicated to, add a new sense to the word.

More often than not, sports ranks high among those pursuits.

Beau Holder, TexAgs.com A&M's tradition will be welcomed with enthusiasm in a league already dripping with it, evident in sights like Toomer's Corner (seen being rolled after the Miss. St. win).
These people experience fandom at 100 miles per hour, tailgating as though their very lives were weaved together for its enjoyment, subsisting on a collective obsession that often outreaches that of even the most starved Aggies. Vacations, weddings, parties, perhaps even child conception, all planned around schedules and the big games, spreading a blazing sense of unity everywhere one goes on Saturdays in the fall or weekends in the spring.

Aside from the extremely entertaining and tradition-laden Ole Miss-Mississippi State and Auburn-Alabama rivalries, along with Vanderbilt and Tennessee, there is no competition between in-state schools in this conference, no added stress of handling politics and toeing lines within one's own border. It's simply the best pitted against the best each week with conference supremacy, not petty bragging rights, on the line.

Prepare to make friends everywhere you go — so long as you can take it, and you can dish it.

The best college sports has to offer await, from the majesty of Bryant-Denney to the energy at Jordan-Hare and Toomer's Corner, the Left Field Lounge at Mississippi State baseball and basketball trips to Florida and the legendary Rupp Arena. Conference brethren will likewise flock to see Kyle Field and Blue Bell Park, the newest quality additions to a list — far too long to ramble off here — of annual sights that make up the SEC.

Regardless of what internet denizens have to say about the Aggies' move to the nation's best conference, real-life fans of schools all over the Deep South welcome the competition from one of the Lone Star State's flagship institutions. The fans of the SEC see not only the value Texas A&M brings, but the way it represents a long-lost brother.

The argument, perpetuated by A&M's enemies, that years will come and go before the Aggies can compete will be resolved when the time comes.

For now? More money, more exposure, more good times, more thrills. And a conference where both sides of this new family are built to welcome the other in a way the Big 12 never could.

It's a brave new world the University sets off in, but you'll see. It's a far, far better home we go to, than we have ever known.
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