"This is bigger than football, and it's bigger than athletics," he said. "We see this as an opportunity to introduce Texas A&M to the southeastern United States, new TV markets, new states and fan bases. This is an opportunity for a great world-class institution to stand on its own and represent the entire state of Texas in the SEC."
Monday morning, the celebration will continue. Aggies, including A&M President Bowen Loftin, Thornton and representatives from all 20 A&M sports, will gather at the A&M indoor track stadium at 10 a.m. for a ceremonial SEC flag raising.
The party will likely continue. A&M sold out its football season tickets on March 27, the earliest date in school history. The Aggies' first SEC game will be in College Station on Sept. 8 against Florida, which has won two national championships in the past six years.
In the last few months, one of the school's initiatives has been using its website, Facebook, Twitter and various SEC forums to educate people about A&M and answer questions concerning some of the unique traditions at the once all-male military school -- the male-only Yell Leaders instead of cheerleaders, for example, and the 12th Man tradition.
"I always tell people that Texas A&M has always been an SEC school in terms of our traditions, our spirit and our passion," said Jason Cook, Texas A&M's vice president for marketing and communications. "We've just been positioned in the wrong conference."
If that sounds like a jab, well, it probably is. The school's departure from the Big 12 was at times acrimonious and dominated by a falling out of sorts with Texas, its biggest rival. The Aggies were worried about the future of the Big 12 after the departures of Nebraska and Colorado, and the creation of the Longhorn TV network by Texas and ESPN simply made things worse.
This is the first day, Missouri, of the rest of your life. Are you ready? No, nobody could be. Not for what’s coming.
Sunday is your first official day in the Southeastern Conference, the biggest and best in college sports. They don’t just win national championships; they collect them. The last six football champions. Three of the last seven men’s basketball titles. Three of the last four College World Series winners. Yeah, that baseball tournament you flipped past on TV last month. You’re an SEC team now. “Omaha” means more than the zoo and those annoying commercials. It’s a destination and a hope, and if your baseball team falls short frequently, your coach isn’t doing his job.
The stadiums are bigger. The crowds are crazier. If tailgating were an Olympic sport, they’d hold the trials in Athens, Ga., and Oxford, Miss. Thank goodness you know how to smoke a pork shoulder — better, if you ask me, than anyone in the country. Yes, even in the South, where I was born, raised and educated. Take that knowledge with you. It’ll help you fit in. They grill gator in Athens, roast boar in Starkville, and when a little hound dog trots by in Gainesville wearing Tennessee colors, they run toward him and scream obscenities.
A Tiger Town initiative endorsed by the Columbia Tribune proposes closing downtown to vehicles and relaxing the city’s open container policy to accommodate “increasing hordes of Southeastern Conference visitors” and create a “pedestrian downtown party zone.” Tickets are scarce for the inaugural SEC game against Georgia in September, just the second meeting between the schools. Alabama comes to Columbia in October.
Season ticket holder David Branom of Kirkwood, Mo., is anticipating making mini-vacations out of “some great road trips.”
“I did not want Missouri to leave the Big 12,” Branom said. “And I have always thought the SEC thought a little too highly of itself. But now we’re a part of it, so I need to change my attitude.”