Game day at Texas A&M University: The spirit and energy of the 12th Man; the sea of maroon shirts crowding in and around Kyle Field; and most importantly, Aggie tailgating.
Texas A&M has historically been one of the famed tailgating schools in the Big 12 and was ranked by Bleacher Report as the eighth best tailgating school in the nation in 2010. However, with the university’s move to the SEC this fall, Texas A&M will meet their match on the football field – and in the parking lot as well.
Jason Cook, chief communication officer of the Texas A&M System, says that when it comes to tailgating it’s a whole new world in SEC country.
“The most obvious change you will see is there will be a lot more tailgating; the SEC is widely known for the travel to road games,” Cook says, adding that Aggies can expect to see SEC fans pull into parking lots on Wednesday or Thursday for Saturday games. Where exactly the university is going to put the large influx of RV’s common among SEC tailgaters is under study, says Cook.
“It is not only a capacity issue but we have to look at issues such as dump stations for RV’s, large parking spaces for RV’s, where do we put them, how do we accommodate them,” Cook says. “We have an integrated team from the athletic department, from facility services, from the community and we will work together to make sure that Aggieland is a welcoming place for our new SEC family.”
Cook also says that the university is waiting for the 2012 football schedule to start making ticket allotment decisions, another change from joining the SEC. “There are many issues that we are going to have to look at such as the number of tickets to give to road teams,” Cook says. “When we were in Birmingham for a meeting with the SEC they said that road game allotments could range anywhere between 5,000 tickets to 9,000 tickets depending on the school.”
Tyke Martin, Texas A&M Class of 1980, has been tailgating Aggie home games for seven years in Lot H across the street from Kyle Field. Martin and his friends decided to create a non-profit organization called the Brazos Valley Tailgaters that is sponsored by local businesses with the goal of offering a scholarship for an A&M student beginning this year.
Tailgating with the Brazos Valley Tailgaters is a whole ‘nother level than a cooler of beer and a charcoal grill, drawing 150-plus people on any average home game. While it is a great place to party before the game, it is also what Martin calls “tailgating for a purpose.”
“We are hopefully taking tailgating to a whole new level,” Martin says. “We have about $10,000 in sponsors this year; it costs us about $6,500 to tailgate; and what we are going to do is have a $2,000 to $3,000 scholarship made available to Texas A&M students.”
With the move to the SEC on the horizon, Martin says his crew of tailgaters is ready for the new experience, adding that he looks forward to making sure that the SEC schools get a glimpse into the tradition, spirit and brotherhood that embodies Texas A&M from the Brazos Valley Tailgaters. He hopes other Aggie tailgaters will do the same.
“That is what I admire about Aggies and I hope we stay that way,” Martin says. “Leave the combat on the field – and that is hard for some people to do – but tailgating gives us the opportunity to be good ambassadors.”
Regardless of what conference Texas A&M is in, Martin insists that the Aggie tailgating experience will not change, only the number of people. He does believe that tailgating regulations will be affected by the larger SEC crowds, adding that currently tailgating is not very regulated around Aggieland, beyond the Spence Park regulation that tailgaters are only allowed to bring in what they can carry. This regulation bars tailgaters like Martin from bringing in smokers or pits.
“I don’t foresee changes in tailgating itself except for more crowds and more people going to the game,” Martin says. “But when you have more people tailgating, what that may do is eventually the athletic department will start regulating it more.”
Whatever else changes by the time the first SEC fans arrive, expect some friendly smack talk on and off the gridiron as Aggies welcome in new friends and new rivals. Emily Snyder, a senior at Louisiana State University, says the Aggies had no idea what they were getting themselves into, on the gridiron or at the barbeque grill.
“Compared to A&M tailgates that I have been to you guys don’t even compare,” Snyder says. “Tailgating starts at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. in the morning for evening games, and even earlier for afternoon games, usually guys will sleep out at their tailgates and party all night if there is a day game.”
Snyder also says that in SEC country they take no prisoners, on or off the football field. If the colors of a person’s shirt aren’t purple, gold, and white in Baton Rouge on game day, prepared to be called “tiger bait.”
“If someone comes to visit from another school its best to have them wear either purple, gold, or white because anyone who’s not wearing LSU colors gets harassed by everyone screaming ‘tiger bait’ in their faces,” Snyder says. “For the Oregon game people brought loaves of bread and threw slices at the Oregon fans because they are the Oregon ducks.”
As everything from football to tailgating gets set to change in College Station, one thing is certain for Martin: the conference may change but the Aggie Way is set in stone.
“Being an Aggie is a good thing, but being an Aggie tailgater is even better,” Martin says. – by Travis Lawson