The SEC is the governing body for all NCAA sports. Texas and Oklahoma are two of the most prestigious universities in the country, but they’re not members of the SEC. Will they move to the SEC? We answer this question and more on our latest episode!
4:30 p.m. ET
On Monday, Texas and Oklahoma took its first formal step toward leaving the Big 12, notifying the remainder of the league that they do not plan to renew their grant of rights media deal, which runs through June 30, 2025.
High-ranking decision-makers throughout the nation anticipate a seismic change in the power structure and organization of collegiate sports as a consequence of the move, but two major issues remain: how and when.
ESPN’s Jeff Borzello, Heather Dinich, David M. Hale, Adam Rittenberg, and Mark Schlabach examine the current situation and the potential consequences of OU and Texas leaving the Big 12.
So far, we’ve learned
The Sooners and Longhorns’ joint statement on Monday was the first step toward SEC membership for the Sooners and Longhorns. Following that, the two institutions would have to submit a formal membership petition to the SEC. 11 of the 14 existing SEC presidents and chancellors would have to agree to invite them in order for it to materialize.
Despite Texas A&M’s initial opposition to the proposal, it is expected that enough SEC institutions will vote to admit the two new members. The exact date of the vote is unknown at this time. Another issue is whether the SEC presidents would still be ready to extend an invitation if Oklahoma and Texas decided to stay in the Big 12 after the 2025 agreement expired.
The letter was sent from Oklahoma, Texas, and Oklahoma. So, what’s next?
The two most probable possibilities are that Texas and OU stay in the Big 12 until June 2025, or they leave for the SEC as early as 2023 and pay a penalty of $75 million to $80 million apiece. According to one source, if the schools opt to stay, and the relationship with the rest of the conference deteriorates, they may be able to reach an even lower settlement. Oklahoma and Texas may no longer be bound by the grant of rights deal if the Big 12 disbands before the contract’s expiration date.
Why have Texas and Oklahoma made this decision now?
If Texas and Oklahoma choose to depart the Big 12 before their rights deal ends in June 2025, they’ll have to pay significant costs. USA TODAY Sports’ Andrew Dieb
According to ESPN, a variety of factors contributed to the surprising decision, including declining home attendance for Big 12 games, recruitment, recent federal court decisions on amateurism and name, image, and likeness, and, of course, money.
The 10-team Big 12 disbursed approximately $409 million to its members in fiscal year 2023, according to federal tax documents, or about $37 million to $40.5 million per school. The league distributed $38.8 million in fiscal 2018, a small reduction from the previous year’s $38.8 million; the dip was due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the SEC’s 14 teams earned $768.9 million in revenue in 2023, with each institution receiving $45.5 million. With the arrival of Oklahoma and Texas, that number is expected to rise, allowing the SEC to return to the bargaining table with ESPN. ESPN and the SEC signed a new 10-year agreement in December that will begin in 2024 and would give the network exclusive rights to SEC football and men’s basketball.
One of the earliest warning signals for Oklahoma and Texas, according to Big 12 insiders, came in May, when a media consulting company said the league wouldn’t be able to significantly increase its broadcast rights agreements with ESPN and Fox once they expire. Because of the shifting environment of college athletics and how people watch sports, Texas Tech president Lawrence Schovanec told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in May that those networks refused to start early talks on a new contract.
“Our partners, ESPN and Fox, are not interested in moving proactively with respect to our contract at this time, with so much uncertainty in the media business as well as the landscape for college sports,” Schovanec told the Avalanche-Journal. “They understand the significance of our collaboration, but there is just too much uncertainty, and they only have four years left. So we’ll wait till we get at the proper location and time.”
“Nobody saw this coming,” one league source said, adding that he had heard rumblings about Texas wanting to leave.
What happens to the Big 12’s remaining teams?
Texas and Oklahoma, according to Sam Acho, will have no trouble competing in the SEC.
Unfortunately, none of them have a bright future ahead of them. According to industry insiders, the SEC’s prospective acquisitions of Oklahoma and Texas may be the first step toward the creation of a single superconference with as many as 60 teams or as few as 32. Under that scenario, the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC, as well as Notre Dame, would merge into a single organization. Those schools would only play against each other.
The remaining FBS clubs, which include those from the aforementioned conferences as well as those from the AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and SunBelt, would effectively be relegated to a lesser division. Other possibilities include the creation of three or four superconferences, or a partnership between the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 to counteract the SEC’s increasing power.
Until then, the Big 12’s surviving schools must decide whether to attempt to keep the league together by replacing Oklahoma and Texas, or whether to expand. Is it possible that Iowa State may find a home in the Big Ten? With Iowa, the league already has a monopoly on that market. Is it possible for Texas Tech to find a home in the Pac-12? Would the ACC be interested in Kansas, despite its football failures, because of its basketball tradition? West Virginia has already set its sights on that conference. What about Oklahoma State University? If the Big 12 collapses, Baylor, Kansas State, and TCU may face much more tough conditions.
In the past, the surviving Big 12 schools — Cincinnati, Memphis, Houston, SMU, UCF, and South Florida — would have poached some of the top teams from the American. However, the Big 12’s status has deteriorated so drastically that it may wind up being the other way around.
What impact will this have on the College Football Playoff’s expansion?
It’s too early to tell, but if Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC, it’s not unrealistic to believe the conference could field seven teams in a projected 12-team field, including both of its newest members, even if they finish 10-2 or 9-3. This scenario may erode support for the 12-team plan during a summer when university presidents, athletic directors, coaches, conference commissioners, and players are gathering input on expansion from coast to coast.
According to one person familiar with the talks, the OU-Texas news is unlikely to affect the timeliness of a decision on whether to adopt the 12-team system. Meanwhile, CFP executive director Bill Hancock told ESPN on Monday that the 12-team playoff feasibility study is still on schedule. The CFP management committee, which includes the 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, will meet with the 11 presidents and chancellors who control the playoff structure in late September.
During a short phone conversation from Tokyo, where he is helping for the Olympics, Hancock added, “The timetable hasn’t altered.” “Conference presidents, athletic directors, coaches, professors, and players are still providing input.”
Will this increase Notre Dame’s push to join a conference?
Notre Dame will confront the “independent” issue again amid the current realignment rumblings after playing inside the ACC during the COVID-affected collegiate football season in 2023. Icon Sportswire/Robin Alam
In order to maintain its independence, Notre Dame has three primary goals. The first is that a 12-team format would offer access to the playoffs. The ACC provides them with a home for their Olympic sports until at least 2036. The third component is a broadcast partner, which NBC remains. In other words, even if realignment were to occur, Notre Dame would have no reason to relocate.
Things may, of course, change. Would the money provided by a new Big Ten television contract be enticing enough? What if the 12-team playoff fails and access for conference champions is emphasized instead? Is the ACC’s failure to add Notre Dame an indication that the conference is on the verge of collapsing? All of these possibilities are theoretically conceivable, but unlikely at this time.
It’s also worth noting that the Irish remain obligated to the ACC until 2036 as part of their non-football grant of rights agreement with the conference. If the Irish join any league before then, it must be the ACC, according to the deal.
The Big Ten, Pac-12, and ACC will all push Notre Dame to join their conferences, but as Swarbrick said earlier this summer, “we’re more dedicated to independence than ever.”
Notre Dame has significant administrative connections to the ACC and Big Ten. From 2000 through 2004, new ACC commissioner Jim Phillips served as a senior assistant athletics director under Kevin White. Kevin Warren, the Big Ten commissioner, is a Notre Dame law school alumnus who just recruited former Notre Dame assistant Barry Alvarez as a special consultant to the league. Gene Smith, the most prominent athletic director in the Big Ten, was a Notre Dame football player.
“I like our position a lot,” Swarbrick told ESPN this weekend, “but I also recognize that the entire scenario remains extremely uncertain.”
What does the future hold for leagues like the Big Ten and Pac-12?
The Big Ten has a strong financial foundation and does not need to expand for the sake of numbers. However, some Big Ten officials are becoming more interested in whether the league should be more active in recruiting new members. The Big Ten’s current television contract ends in 2023.
According to sources, the Big Ten is expected to examine only colleges that are members of the Association of American Universities, a club of elite research universities that is important to Big Ten presidents. Except for Nebraska, every Big Ten school is a member of the AAU, and Nebraska was a member of the AAU until the Big Ten sought the school in 2010. Texas is a member of the AAU, while Oklahoma is not. Iowa State and Kansas are the only two Big 12 schools in the AAU, apart from Texas. Both the Pac-12 (Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, USC, UCLA, Washington) and the ACC (Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, USC, UCLA, Washington) have significant AAU membership (Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Pitt, Virginia). Although Notre Dame is not a member of the AAU, the Irish are an obvious exception to the conference’s AAU preferences.
What happens to these programs’ non-football teams?
These decisions, as well as others that will surely be made in the coming weeks, months, and years, are almost exclusively driven by football, with basketball and other non-football sports taking a second seat in talks. Basketball coaches were mostly unaware of Texas and Oklahoma’s exit talks, with several Big 12 and SEC coaches telling ESPN they learned about it through social media before the rest of the world.
Non-football teams will almost certainly follow Texas and Oklahoma into the SEC if and when they do so; but, if this is the first step toward superconferences outside of the NCAA’s jurisdiction, non-football sports are unlikely to go that far. It’s worth mentioning that the CFP oversees the college football playoffs, while the NCAA oversees the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, as well as all other postseason events.
Kansas, one of the genuine blue bloods in the sport, is the most important team to follow in men’s basketball. There hasn’t been another moment when one of the few traditionally top schools was basically a free agent, as the Big 12 would be if it were to collapse. Baylor, which won the national title last season, is also in jeopardy if the Big 12 falls apart.
Since becoming a 10-team league following the previous round of restructuring, the Big 12 has been probably the greatest conference in men’s basketball. The remaining schools, especially those with strong football programs, are clearly at danger of slipping behind in terms of resources.
Softball is another sport to keep an eye on. The SEC was already a world-class softball league, with at least 12 teams reaching the NCAA tournament for four years in a row and seven of the top 14 seeds in 2023. Adding Oklahoma and Texas to the mix gives the league nine of the top 14 teams from last year and, in the case of the Sooners, the conference’s most dominating softball program in the country.
What does this imply for the NCAA’s future?
The NCAA is on the verge of collapsing after a turbulent 17 months. While many administrators around the nation are unsure about the future of realignment, there seems to be one thing they all agree on: this is the first step toward the major schools breaking away from the NCAA.
“The NCAA has basically imploded, and it simply hasn’t been acknowledged yet,” one Power 5 athletic director told ESPN this week.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the SEC want Texas and Oklahoma?
Does Oklahoma want to join the SEC?
Oklahoma is not currently in the SEC.
Is Oklahoma moving to the SEC?
No, Oklahoma is not moving to the SEC.