Bill to reinstate Texas A&M and UT football game never gained ground

After it failed to move out of the House Higher Education Committee on Monday, a proposal to bring back the annual game seems all but dead.

 Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

It is unlikely that the Longhorns and Aggies will square off on the football field anytime soon. A bill that would bring back the annual game between Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin did not make it out of committee, missing a critical deadline for it to become law.

Monday was the last day for House committees to report legislation to the full House. But state Rep. Lyle Larson, a San Antonio Republican, said he never asked for a hearing on House Bill 412. Rather, he said, his true intention was to jumpstart a conversation between the schools about the "viability of starting to play the game again."

"The conversations that are happening are very active," said Larson, who noted he's been in contact with administrators at both UT and A&M.

Filed in November, the bill would have required the state’s flagship universities to “play a nonconference, regular-season football game against one another on the fourth Thursday, Friday, or Saturday of November each year."

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The bill also stipulated that if a team refused to participate in the game, that university could not award athletic scholarships or “similar financial assistance funded by state funds” to students who participate on the school’s football team.

Larson said his motivations for the bill are twofold. He said reinstating the rivalry game would bring "tens of millions of dollars into the state" through sales taxes, hotel and motel taxes, and other income streams.

Larson also cited two surveys of the UT and A&M student bodies, in 2017 and 2019, respectively, that he said indicate overwhelming support to bring back the game. Larson said it's wrong to deprive current students of the matchup. Both schools' fight songs mention the other college.

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"Ninety miles away and we're not playing the two biggest teams in the state," said Larson, who pointed to games like South Carolina versus Clemson and Florida versus Florida State as proof that in-state rivalries can continue across conferences.

UT and A&M stopped playing each other when A&M moved to the Southeastern Conference.

Larson said Gov. Greg Abbott deserves the bulk of the credit for pushing the effort forward. In January, Abbott voiced support for Larson’s bill during his annual State of the State address.

“I’m willing to step up and put aside past difference and work with [state Rep.] Lyle Larson to reinstate the rivalry game between the Aggies and the Longhorns,” said Abbott at the time, acknowledging previous animus between the pair. In 2018, Abbott put his support behind Larson’s primary challenger, Chris Fails.

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Forty-six percent of Texas voters said they didn't care if the game was brought back, according to University of Texas/Texas Tribune polling in March. Still, 40 percent of voters said they would like the game to be reestablished. The Longhorns and Aggies last competed in 2011. Larson said there is still a "strong possibility" that the game could be reconstituted within the next three years.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.