The world of college athletics turned upside down this summer. In the past month alone, the College Football Playoff committee proposed expanding the field from four teams to 12, and the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the NCAA’s business model, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh writing it “would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.” A few weeks later, college athletes were allowed to profit off their name, image, and likeness for the first time ever.
As if all that news wasn’t enough, the Houston Chronicle’s Brent Zwerneman reported Wednesday that Texas and Oklahoma reached out to the SEC about potentially joining. According to The Athletic’s Max Olson, there hadn’t been “any hints dropped at any point” about the potential departures during recent Big 12 athletic director meetings. The bombshell was not met with any outright denial from the schools, making the news sturdier than Texas A&M fans might want it to be. Furthermore, on Thursday night, as the Big 12 began discussing its future and contingency plans in light of the news, neither Texas nor Oklahoma took part, per Yahoo’s Pete Thamel. Simply put: This is real, and if it comes to fruition it would alter the college sports landscape as we know it. What exactly does this all mean? Let’s break it down below.
Why would Texas and Oklahoma leave the Big 12?
Money. The SEC is one of the most financially stable Power 5 conferences, generating $720.6 million in revenue for the 2019 fiscal year, per USA Today. That paid out to about $45 million per member school. Meanwhile, the Big 12 reported $439 million for the 2019 fiscal year, paying members between $38.2 million and $42 million. But the number for the SEC could soon jump.
The SEC also just agreed to a $3 billion television deal with Disney that will pay the conference roughly $300 million per year over 10 years, beginning in 2024. As The Athletic’s Sam Khan Jr. reports, the Big 12’s current TV deals with ESPN and Fox will end in 2025, and “neither network was ready to discuss a new deal” in the spring.
If Texas and Oklahoma were to leave for the SEC, they’d have higher financial floors and ceilings.
Why would the SEC want Texas and Oklahoma?
Same answer: money. Texas ($223.9 million) and Oklahoma ($163.1 million) were the highest and eighth-highest revenue-generating public schools, respectively, in the nation in 2018-19. By adding both schools, the SEC could surpass the Big Ten—which has led the way in Power 5 revenue each of the past two years—for the highest-earning conference.
Will the SEC accept them? And what will it take?
Yes, the SEC would do this, despite contention from Texas A&M, currently the only Texas-based SEC school. The financial gain from adding Texas would be simply too sweet to pass on.
Texas and Oklahoma need 11 of the SEC’s 14 schools to vote in favor of the move for expansion to be approved. Per the Austin American-Statesman’s Kirk Bohls, Texas A&M and Missouri (a former Big 12 member) would each vote against adding the schools.
Wait, wait, wait—aren’t Texas and Oklahoma basically mortal enemies?! Why would they do this together?
Yes, Texas and Oklahoma are and will remain rivals until the end of time. In this scenario, think of them as having a superhero–arch nemesis dynamic. It’s not as interesting when the hero is faced only with random auxiliary villains, which is essentially what the rest of the Big 12 is composed of.
There’s no indication the two schools are coordinating their moves for each other. Both schools would be in for a bigger payday by joining the SEC than remaining in a nine-team Big 12 if the other left.
Is there an argument for the teams to stay put in the Big 12?
Yes. Oklahoma has won the Big 12’s football crown each of the past six seasons, gaining entry to the CFP semifinals four times. The Sooners likely wouldn’t experience as much gridiron success in the SEC, playing a more competitive schedule. Texas, meanwhile, hasn’t won a conference title in football since 2009—and joining college football’s most competitive conference may simply extend that drought even further. Even with CFP expansion coming, it would seem safer for both schools to stay put and be perennial conference contenders with pathways to the Playoff.
The SEC is also more competitive in sports outside of football. Earlier this month, Texas won the 2021 Directors’ Cup, given to the nation’s most successful athletics program. Oklahoma finished 24th. Both school’s athletic programs should be able to hold their own against SEC counterparts, which boasted a Division I–best eight top-25 schools this season; the Big 12 boasted three.
Has the Big 12 tried anything or said anything to stop this?
According to the Austin American-Statesman’s Brian Davis, the Big 12 recently asked members to sign a five-year extension of television rights through 2030. Texas is opposed and will likely send a letter to the Big 12 saying it doesn’t want to extend those rights.
As of Thursday evening, only one member has condemned Texas and OU for approaching the SEC: Oklahoma State, which sent out a statement Wednesday. Additionally, Texas state representative Jeff Leach—who attended Baylor—tweeted that “a monumental economic and educational decision impacting the entire state [of Texas] must not be made in a bubble on the forty acres,” adding that he was working on legislation “requiring legislative approval for UT to bolt” the Big 12.
What would Texas and Oklahoma’s departures mean for the future of the Big 12?
It’s not looking good for the conference. Should Texas and Oklahoma leave, the Big 12 would be left with eight members and no schools ranked in the top 25 athletic department revenues. The highest-earning public school would be the University of Kansas ($121.6 million), which ranked 28th nationally in 2018-19, per USA Today. With TV deals still not finalized and two of the conference’s biggest draws set to depart, an eight-team Big 12 could barely be considered a Power 5 conference.
Haven’t there been realignment rumors involving Texas and Oklahoma before?
Yup! Back in 2010, then Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott intended to land Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Colorado to form the Pac-16. Within Texas, in-state political pressure to keep the Big 12 together helped lead UT to ultimately pass, and the idea dissolved. Now, just over a decade later, the school appears set to form a new superconference to the east instead.