The inevitable became reality on Monday, as Texas and Oklahoma began the formal process of unwinding from the Big 12 conference and joining the SEC. It marks the first official step in a potentially seismic move that solidifies the SEC as the strongest conference in college sports and will likely send the other power conferences scrambling to catch up.
Formally, Oklahoma and Texas informed the Big 12 officially that they didn’t plan to extend the grant of rights with the league past the 2024-25 season. The schools issued a joint statement announcing their intentions.
Joint statement from Texas and Oklahoma:
"The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Oklahoma notified the Big 12 Athletic Conference today that they will not be renewing their grants of media rights following expiration in 2025." pic.twitter.com/tfi8eEq03z
— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) July 26, 2021
In reality, Oklahoma and Texas began the first official step in a process that’s expected to end with them joining the SEC. While the timeline of when they’d play in the SEC is still muddled, the next steps are more clear.
Officially, OU and Texas have to apply to be considered by the SEC. The SEC is expected to draft a membership agreement and have conversations with its television partners, which will be ESPN alone come 2024, about the addition. Also, moving too quickly would create optics that the deal was already done, so expect the timeline before a vote to extend a few days.
Barring some type of legislative or governmental Hail Mary, this is expected to sail through and be voted on by the SEC sometime this week, sources told Yahoo Sports. Even Texas A&M’s public objection gymnastics have slowed down, setting the stage for the spiral from A&M athletic director Ross Bjork’s media day fireworks to the vote being announced as unanimous. If it’s not unanimous, it’s expected to be 13-1 and end the long-running joke in conference politics that every league vote in history has been announced as unanimous.
There’s still little concern, according to sources, that Texas A&M can muster the voting capital to object to this move. With the SEC’s most powerful brands ready to embrace the move – mostly for the payoff jackpot after the 2033 season – the league’s have-nots have little interest in getting in the way of the blue bloods’ financial goals. It doesn’t behoove Vanderbilt or Missouri to get in the way of Alabama or Florida in the board room, as the have-not schools are still getting paid the same amount for drastically different performance histories.
Behind the scenes, Oklahoma and Texas are telling everyone possible that they will play out the remaining portion of their television contract through 2024. The waving of arms to get across that point is viewed more as legal strategy than reality.
First off, announcing a contract break isn’t wise. Second, officials from Oklahoma and Texas have buyouts that total nearly $150 million. If they want to avoid paying more than $75 million each in exit fees, the schools’ best chance is to sit back, sing "Kumbaya" and wait to see if the Big 12 ends up dissolving. That strategy could save a lot of money.
It’s still unlikely that Oklahoma and Texas would slog through four more years in the Big 12. It would be a recruiting disadvantage, as one of the main reasons that Texas is going to the SEC is that it lost its recruiting foothold in Houston and kept losing marquee talent around the state to Alabama and Ohio State. (Former Alabama star Jaylen Waddle, current Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson, the Brockermeyer twins headed to Alabama and Ohio State quarterback recruit Quinn Ewers are just a few recent high-profile examples.)
The Big 12 executive committee met with officials from Oklahoma and Texas on Sunday night, but the meeting was more a formality than anything. OU and Texas declined to detail how long they’ve been exploring the SEC, another wise legal move. The Big 12 wanted to gauge their openness to ideas moving forward, but one source said Oklahoma and Texas kept things tight with an attitude of, “We’re here to listen.”
As this move becomes formalized this week, the ripples will continue to reverberate around the sport. The Big 12’s remaining eight programs have to figure out how to quickly and aggressively rebuild. The other three major conferences, all of which have relatively new and inexperienced commissioners, are plotting moves to answer the SEC.
In a statement Monday, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby attempted to move the conversation forward. He said:
“Although our eight members are disappointed with the decisions of these two institutions, we recognize that intercollegiate athletics is experiencing rapid change and will most likely look much different in 2025 than it does currently. The Big 12 Conference will continue to support our member institutions’ efforts to graduate student-athletes, and compete for Big 12 and NCAA championships. Like many others, we will use the next four years to fully assess what the landscape will look like in 2025 and beyond. The remaining eight institutions will work together in a collaborative manner to thoughtfully and strategically position the Big 12 Conference for continued success, both athletically and academically, long into the future.”
As for the SEC, the possibility of a superconference that stretches from Gainesville to Norman and Columbia to Austin is inching closer to reality, with the first formal step executed Monday.
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