Conference realignment rumors are running rampant.
After the Houston Chronicle broke the news Wednesday that Texas and Oklahoma are looking to depart the Big 12 and align themselves with the Southeastern Conference, the college football world went into a full DEFCON 2 meltdown.
As of Friday, multiple reports had surfaced indicating Texas and Oklahoma have begun the steps to leave the Big 12 and, eventually, head to the SEC.
Should this all go through, South Carolina would be required to lend a vote on whether to admit the schools. The general consensus around college football circles is that the vote would be 13-1 with Texas A&M being the lone dissenter. There would need to be four schools in opposition of the change to stall expansion.
So why should South Carolina officials vote in favor of adding Texas and Oklahoma? Here’s a list of pros and cons in regard to approving the move:
Pro: Big brand names in OU, UT added to the mix
There’s no mistaking the name recognition that would come with adding Texas and Oklahoma.
The Longhorns boast one of the most recognizable logos not only in college athletics, but sports — period. Oklahoma, while slightly more regional, is also among college football’s most storied programs and has seven claimed national titles to its name.
Adding Texas and Oklahoma to a league that already includes blue bloods Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU and, to a lesser extent, Texas A&M, would give the SEC staying and marketing power atop the college football universe for the foreseeable future.
The other piece to this is marketing. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has helped oversee the league’s ascent from a regionalized conference that beat its chest regarding its place in college football, to one that has dominated the sport since he came to the league in 2002 (Take the SEC’s 11 national titles since 2006 as evidence).
Should Texas and Oklahoma get in the mix, it’d make the SEC the undisputed top conference in college football — though it was most of the way there already — and give it further separation from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC. It would also likely bring the demise of the Big 12.
Pro: Expansion is good for business in the SEC
College football is a business. You know it. I know it. We all know it.
The reality of this situation is that Texas and Oklahoma saw a chance to cash in on their respective brand names and the SEC will be more than happy to be a part of it.
Under the current model, each SEC school receives a cut of the proverbial pie at the end of each season. That piece amounted to $45.5 million in the fiscal year that ended on Aug. 30, 2020, according to a report from USA Today.
The SEC is also set to enter a new television rights deal with ESPN that will pay the conference roughly $3 billion over the life of the contract, according to the New York Times. The Times also reported the contract will pay the conference $300 million annually — a massive increase over the $55 million CBS paid under the current deal.
It’s unclear at this time how Texas and Oklahoma’s additions might affect existing contracts. However, given the massive TV deals schools are about to cash in on combined with the money both schools would presumably bring in should they be added through varying avenues, everyone in the conference would be in line for a bigger cut.
Con: Do bigger brands devalue USC’s importance?
Despite what fans might think, South Carolina is in the middle of the pack at best when it comes to visibility in the SEC.
The Gamecocks are among the newest teams to the league — having jumped from independence to the SEC in 1991 — and programs like Georgia and Florida already dwarf South Carolina to some degree in the SEC East. Adding Texas and Oklahoma to the equation only stands to further shrink the USC brand in terms of conference pecking order.
There’s assuredly value in strengthening the SEC’s brand. What remains up in the air is how that affects the smaller programs among the conference’s giants.
I’m not exactly going on a limb when I say Oklahoma and Texas are much larger names than South Carolina. The question becomes, does South Carolina benefit from playing games in Austin and Norman, thus expanding its visibility into markets it previously wasn’t in? Or, do Texas and Oklahoma arrive and immediately overshadow whatever is going on in Columbia?
Con: Texas and Oklahoma would make tough SEC even tougher
South Carolina’s football program has fallen on hard times in recent years.
After the glory days of Steve Spurrier, Will Muschamp struggled to maintain the momentum built under the Head Ball Coach. It all eventually amounted to a four-win season in 2019, a two-win year in 2020 and the inevitable ousting of Muschamp as head coach.
Shane Beamer has inspired confidence with those in and around Columbia that he can bring a culture of change to South Carolina. His positive energy and effervescent personality work wonders in promoting the program around the state and on the recruiting trail.
That said, South Carolina already has a steep mountain to climb in establishing itself as an SEC power. Adding a pair of programs like Oklahoma and Texas would stand in the way of that trek.
Oklahoma has established itself as one of the premier programs in college football’s 21st century. The Sooners have won 14 of 20 Big 12 titles since 2000 and they’ve recorded a quartet of College Football Playoff appearances.
In fairness, Texas has been down in recent years. The end of Mack Brown’s tenure brought the tumultuous Charlie Strong era that eventually led to the underachieving Tom Herman experiment. It’s all left the Longhorns without a Big 12 title since 2009.
Recent history aside, Texas is among the five best jobs in college football. No one cares quite like Longhorn fans and no one spends quite like those burnt orange donors. Steve Sarkisian is heading into his first year at the helm in Austin and there’s hope he’s the man to return Texas to its former glory.
South Carolina has had its moments in recent years (think three-straight 11-win seasons between 2011 and 2013), but the Gamecocks have struggled to maintain consistency. Adding Oklahoma, Texas or both to the schedule annually would only make things increasingly difficult in a league that’s already as strong as they come.