The League Transition Debate

Photo courtesy of Texas A&M

Photo courtesy of Texas A&M

Will Texas A&M have it even worse than the Houston Astros?

There are grumblings all throughout Texas, and quite frankly, the nation, about two massive impending sporting moves.

The first, mostly because of historically better performances and a much stronger fan base is Texas A&M University starting what’s sure to be an uncharted, bumpy and probably oft-embarrassing road into the SEC (the Aggies’ first football game of the season is on August 30 vs Louisiana Tech with the Florida Gators chomping their way into Kyle Field the very next week for their SEC opener).

The second is the newly owned, underfunded-but-bring-your-own-wine-to-the-field Houston Astros making the move from the National League Central to the American League West next season.

It seems both are in for a rude awakening, but if you had to put your hard-earned dollar on just one of these teams surviving (with perhaps a bit of dignity), which team comes out on top? Texas A&M football or Houston Astros baseball?

SEC vs. AL West

As we all know, the SEC has been housing enough crystal to make an all-Waterford casino in Las Vegas, with the last six BCS National Champions hailing from the Mighty SEC (Florida and Alabama twice each, LSU and Auburn once each). Eight of the 14 total BCS champs have come from the SEC (that’s 57 percent for you math geniuses).

All told, the SEC has sent nine teams to the championship game with the only loser being LSU (which lost to fellow-SEC Alabama this January). Compare that to seven and six total participants from the Big 12 and ACC respectively. No ACC team has even made it to the BCS National Championship Game since the 2002 season.

In short, the SEC has completely owned the college football landscape since that Tebow guy, down on one knee, graced The Swamp with his otherworldly virgin presence back in ’06.

Compare that to the robust AL West. In that same time frame, from 1998 to present, three teams from the division have made it to the World Series, with only the 2002 Angels taking home the Commissioner’s Trophy. Sure the Texas Rangers have made it to the last two (one strike away!) and will be a huge threat to do it again, but the AL West has no unprecedented SEC-type run.

On top of that, only six times since 1994 (the inception of the wild card) has an American League West team even made it into the playoffs as a wild card. Needless to say, the competition isn’t nearly as fierce.

In the grand scheme things, the SEC is the tougher test, but is mostly top heavy, very top heavy, as in a Dolly Parton kind of way. As of right now and for the foreseeable future, the AL West will also be a pretty top heavy division with the Rangers and Angels battling it out for supremacy for years to come. Although the Aggies and Astros are joining two very different leagues, it’s clear neither team will be competitive right away.

It’s like they’re both starting over as the neighborhood cover band trying to win a battle of the bands up against the likes of Led Zeppelin and The Beatles.

Astros vs. Aggies

The Astros will most likely enter the 2013 season coming off the worst record in all of baseball (again) with seemingly no help in sight. They have a ball club unfit for even the National League and they’ll be taking it into a division that has Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Albert Pujols swinging for the fences. That already-bad team ERA is destined to be at least a full run higher in the American League.

Try higher than the DOW.

It’s not good to get swept by the Pirates and the Cubs in back-to-back series, but imagine a Red Sox and Yankees back-to-back.

So the Astros will enter the AL with Bud Norris and 5-foot-5 Jose Altuve as their cornerstones barring a big-time, free-agent signing this winter. Sure general manager Jeff

Jose Altuve, Photo courtesy of Michelle Watson | CatchLightGroup.com

Jose Altuve, Photo courtesy of Michelle Watson | CatchLightGroup.com

Luhnow will have another top pick to work with next June, but who knows if we’ll even be around to see it (Mayan forecasts and all). Simple answer here is the Astros will be staring the worst record in franchise history in the face yet again.

The Aggies are in a similar, yet uniquely different position. Coming into the SEC, Texas A&M lacks the cornerstone of any team — an experienced starting quarterback. With the departure of Ryan Tannehill (and his smoking hot wife), the Aggies are going to have to find someone else fast to throw for 5,000 yards against the most feared defenses this side of Southern California.

It’ll be interesting to see how coach Kevin Sumlin and his new Aggies perform against the hefty SEC defenses with that Cougar High spread system he ran at the University of Houston.

They will also be switching from a 3-4 to 4-3 defense, which we’ve seen a number of teams have trouble adapting to in football. This could be a good move if it weren’t for their exceptionally thin D-line which should make the Marcus Lattimores of the world pretty giddy. They do return a fairly experienced nucleus with tailback Christine Michael, a Julian Edelman 2.0 in wide receiver Ryan Swope and preseason All-American left tackle Luke Joeckel — it’s a pretty safe bet to take them over the Norris-Altuve combo.

To add to that the Aggies are working on a great 2013 recruiting class which hopefully will pay off and help in the transition. But the greatest thing Texas A&M gets to work with is the great tradition and support it will receive from its fans — some of the strongest, arguably even cultish, fans in all the land. Considering the fact that the Aggies’ two-deep roster will outnumber the amount of total fans at a future Astros-Mariners game, the 83,000 strong who will show up at EVERY A&M game will give them an edge their opponents may not be completely ready to face.

While Texas A&M may not hit the SEC championship game in the next 10 or even 20 years, there’s a high chance it will be bowl eligible right off the bat. There are plenty of Kentuckys and Ole Misses to beat up on and they will stand toe to toe with the representatives from Mizzou, Mississippi State and Auburn.

It may not be the start Aggie fans are hoping for, but they’ll bring some noise early on.

When it all boils down to it the Astros and Aggies are going to have a few things in common They both will get beaten handily by teams that will vie for championships. They both will be going to strange new lands filled with some of the best and baddest players in their respective sports — things neither team has much of.

There will also be some things they don’t have in common. The Astros will be moving divisions without anyone to lead their team. The Aggies will at least have some top-notch athletes to grace the field as well as their sidelines. The Astros will be sitting firmly in the cellar of their own division, while the Aggies will be playing for some form of postseason life, probably a bowl in Mobile or Boise, or something as equally unimpressive, but a bowl nonetheless.

Putting their leagues in perspective, the Astros just have to win some games for fans and analysts to see progress and a vast improvement over the past few years, whereas in college football, the only perfect season is just that — perfect, zero losses. Remember, the Aggies left of their own volition while the Astros hands were forced into this new level of domination, otherwise soon to be known as hell.

At the end of the day, each organization will go on. Diehard fans will cheer and argue whether or not this was a smart move for either team. In the end, the Aggies will have the upper hand. You’ll see.

This article was featured on Culture Map, Houston’s Daily Digital Magazine in the sport’s section.