A look at the key factors and possible complications to Texas and Oklahoma potentially joining the SEC.
The college football world turned upside down Wednesday when the public became aware Texas and Oklahoma were interested in leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference.
After the initial wave of shock and non-denial statements from the key parties now comes what Tom Petty would say is the hardest part: the waiting.
Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC won’t be official today or tomorrow. It could move that direction in the next couple weeks or it could fizzle out completely. The SEC could add one of the biggest properties in college athletics or it could watch it head to a rival conference. Realignment is a fickle thing, and when you involve Texas schools and Texas politicians, it can get especially crazy as anyone who dealt with it a decade ago can surely attest.
To give you a better sense of what to expect in the coming weeks, AL.com is breaking down the key factors in this situation.
Could this actually happen?
Yes, it can. The Houston Chronicle dropped the bombshell report Wednesday afternoon but news of Texas and Oklahoma being interested in joining the SEC had been bubbling in the prior days. As AL.com reported yesterday after talking to multiple insiders this week, the belief was Texas and Oklahoma had already taken steps to facilitate a move out of the Big 12 and that the SEC was the preferred destination.
There are some potential roadblocks -- we’ll get to those in a second -- but everything I’ve been told is there is genuine mutual interest between Texas and Oklahoma and the SEC. If it comes to fruition, it would be, by far, the biggest realignment move we’ve ever seen.
Why would the SEC want Texas and Oklahoma?
This answer has to begin and end with money. Adding two big-name college football programs, including one that is a national brand, should allow the SEC to bolster its already nicely-filled coffers. A new television rights deal with ESPN that is expected to pay the conference an extra $300 million annually doesn’t even go into effect until 2024, but the addition of Texas and Oklahoma should make all parties go back to the negotiating table to bump up that number. With the College Football Playoff expected to expand to 12 teams in the coming years, adding Texas and Oklahoma would give the SEC two more quality schools capable of making the playoff.
Here’s maybe the biggest factor: Because if the SEC doesn’t, another conference will. Everyone in the Big 12 seemed to claim Wednesday to have no idea what was going on, but multiple people told AL.com that Texas and Oklahoma had already made up their minds that they wanted out of the Big 12. If Texas and Oklahoma are leaving no matter what, the SEC’s thinking is we’d rather have them to solidify our base than watch them go to the Pac-12 or ACC which could start up another round of realignment as conferences try to move to 16-teams like Larry Scott tried in 2010. It’s about being ahead of the curve rather than reactive when the realignment carousel cranks up again.
Texas and Oklahoma are the two clear gems of the Big 12 so if that conference were to get picked apart or dissolve altogether, those are the two schools you want.
Why wouldn’t this happen?
Texas politics, basically. When Texas wanted to jump to the Pac-10 and Texas A&M wanted to jump to the SEC in 2010, both were told by influential Texas politicians to stand down, as former Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin told me Wednesday night. Then you had Baylor president Ken Starr threaten the SEC with a lawsuit should it add Texas A&M, a move that temporarily delayed the school’s admission because the SEC didn’t want to deal with any lawsuits.
A lot can -- and does -- change in a decade but Texas politics will always be a tricky situation to navigate. Don’t be shocked if influential Texas A&M boosters try to get involved to slow the process down, too. Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork didn’t hide the fact he doesn’t want Texas to join the SEC, saying Wednesday, “We want to be the only SEC team from the state of Texas.” Several reporters took note, too, how coincidental it was that Bjork just happened to be in Hoover to spin the news while no other SEC AD had been at media days all week. Texas A&M has the most to lose in a scenario where it has to share the SEC with Texas, and is expected to do everything it can, publicly and privately, to prevent that from happening.
Will it be enough? There has been a long-standing unofficial gentlemen’s agreement in the SEC to not add a school that another member seriously objects to, but multiple people I talked to this week felt a deal of this magnitude would supersede that. The SEC’s official bylaws say 75 percent of its schools -- that would be 11 out of 14 -- must approve any new member’s admission.
Oklahoma State will also try to crank up pressure to either keep Oklahoma in the Big 12 or make it a package deal. It was an issue that came up throughout the last big round of Big 12 realignment as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were basically attached at the hip. That doesn’t appear to be as big an issue now, but as Oklahoma State’s strongly worded statement Wednesday showed, there will be drama in Oklahoma if the Sooners leave without their little brother.
Finally, there are television rights issues to work out. Texas and Oklahoma’s TV rights are stuck with the Big 12 through 2025. There’s also Texas’ separate Longhorn Network deal that would, in theory, be easier to navigate given ESPN will soon own all of the SEC’s rights, but would still likely require winding down LHN and merging it with the SEC Network. There are a lot of big and small details to work out in conference-defining moves like this.
Be prepared to be bombarded in the coming weeks with reports saying all kinds of conflicting things about realignment. There was so much misinformation, targeted leaks and general chaos the last time Texas and Oklahoma were eying a move out of the Big 12 so it’s fair to expect more of that this time around. There will be a lot of public pressure placed on Texas and Oklahoma to answer questions about their intentions, making it harder for each to work in the shadows evaluating possible moves. The SEC is the prettiest belle of the ball, but don’t be surprised to see other conferences try to sway Texas and Oklahoma to join their group, instead. Loftin told me Wednesday night Texas was adamant that the then-Pac-10 was a much better fit for its campus and its academic aspirations. Again, that was a decade ago and the Pac-12 is in a much worse position now after the Scott era but expect there to at least be feelers about whether Texas’ previous westward preferences still linger.