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Post What Texas A&M brings to the SEC in other sports

Thursday September 29, 2011

There’s no question that the realignment underway in college sports is driven by football. But the SEC has had strong programs in many other sports, and its newest member will more than pull its weight after bowl season. As a major state school, A&M funds most of the sports you’d expect. What you might not expect is how established competition already is between A&M and current SEC powers in their respective sports.

The Aggies do not (currently) participate in gymnastics, but they do field one of the nation’s best equestrian programs. In 2011, A&M placed third at the national championships behind Auburn and Georgia. In 2010, the Aggies came in second behind only Georgia. In fact, A&M will face off against Georgia on October 8th.

Texas A&M’s athletics program placed eighth in the 2010-11 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup. That was tops among Big 12 schools and second only to Florida among SEC schools. How did they get there? Though football, basketball, and baseball are all good programs, A&M is a track school.

How good is Texas A&M track? They’re the reigning men’s national champion. Oh…reigning women’s national champion, too. Want more? Aggie track and field has won both the men’s and women’s national title for three years running. Forget the football matchups – between A&M, Arkansas, LSU, and Florida, the SEC Track and Field championships will just about be the Olympics.

Here’s how A&M looks in some of the more major sports.

Men’s hoops:

Texas A&M comes into the SEC as an above-average basketball program. If you had to place them put them somewhere just below the good recent Florida or Tennessee teams. They might be considered a little “new money.” They’ve played in six straight NCAA Tournaments, but their 2006 appearance broke a dry spell that went back to 1987.

Billy Gillispie is a punchline in the SEC for his belly flop at Kentucky. But Gillispie is the coach that took A&M from a pretty bad place and laid the foundation for their current level of play. Gillispie took the program from 6–24 in 2002–2003 to 24–8 in 2003–2004. The bid to the 2004 NIT was A&M’s first postseason play of any kind in over a decade. Gillispie’s apex was in 2007 when the team earned a #3 seed for the NCAA Tournament – their highest seed ever. 2007 also saw the first top-ten ranking for the program, and their appearence in the 2007 Sweet 16 was only the third in program history and its first since 1980. That strong 2007 season was enough to get Kentucky’s attention, and Gillispie headed to the SEC to be replaced by Mark Turgeon.

There wasn’t much drop-off with Turgeon. The team was right back in the 2008 NCAA Tournament and has returned every year since. What Turgeon didn’t do was get A&M quite back to that 2007 high water mark. The team was decent, competent, and dangerous enough to be an occasional threat to the stronger Big 12 teams, but titles and greater glory eluded them. A&M most recently finished 24-9, earned a #7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and was bounced in the first round by FSU.

The Aggies are currently in a state of transition. Turgeon was hired by Maryland during the offseason. A&M went into the mid-major ranks for their new head coach, hiring former A&M assistant and recent Murray State head coach Billy Kennedy. Kennedy’s last two teams at Murray State went 54-14 and won consecutive OVC titles.

Despite Turgeon’s relative success, his time in College Station was occasionally rocky. Fans were a bit spoiled by 2007 and grumbled about Turgeon’s inability to get the team back to that level. For Turgeon’s part, he made it clear that he was unhappy with lukewarm and inconsistent fan support. SEC hoops fans and coaches can probably relate. Turgeon’s background in basketball-mad Kansas made it tough to be happy in a football-first climate. He won’t really have that problem at Maryland.

The Aggies play at Reed Arena with a capacity of 12,500 – about middle of the road for the SEC.

Women’s hoops:

What does A&M women’s basketball bring to the SEC? Oh, nothing – just the defending national champs. The Aggies didn’t get nearly the press of UConn and Baylor with their mega-stars, but A&M caught fire in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, finally got past their local nemesis Baylor, and followed MVP Danielle Adams to a thrilling national title win over Notre Dame. The SEC is familiar turf for A&M head coach Gary Blair who led Arkansas from 1993–2003 before leaving for College Station.

Their system is a little unique in that they have a designated “defensive coordinator”, Vic Schaefer, whose sole job it is to break down opponents and develop the Aggies’ defensive approach. If you saw Georgia’s Sweet 16 humiliation at the hands of the Aggies, you know how effective this approach can be. Blair’s current team doesn’t figure to be as strong with heavy senior losses, but he’s a good coach who will have a quality team most every year. Kelsey Bone, a freshman star and rebounding machine at South Carolina, transfered to A&M to be closer to home but will be right back into SEC play in a year.


The Aggies are coming off the program’s fifth trip to Omaha and the College World Series. They’ve made the NCAA Tournament for five consecutive seasons and have won either the Big 12 regular season or tournament title in four of the past five seasons. Rob Childress took over the program in 2006 and has since been named Big 12 Coach of the Year while building the program into a contender.

Many of the SEC’s best baseball programs are used to having strong local non-conference rivals. Florida has FSU, Georgia has Tech, and South Carolina has Clemson. A&M’s rivalries with nearby baseball powerhouses Texas and Rice will only add to the conference’s national slate.

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