University of Texas president Jay Hartzell on Monday laid out a number of reasons why he felt it was in the best interest for his school to depart the Big 12 for the SEC.
From more financial security to recruiting to playing in the country’s top football league, the UT president explained why the Longhorns were headed to the SEC during a Texas Senate hearing that dragged on for more than six hours.
“The world is changing and has a lot of uncertainty and turbulence in it,” Hartzell said. “In our view the SEC had a greater position of strength than the Big 12.”
He made it clear that the university did not discuss its move with ESPN executives, nor violate Big 12 bylaws. Hartzell added that he personally reached out to the SEC last spring, the first formal contact between UT and the league.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby contended earlier in the hearing that UT was required to inform the conference of its interactions with the SEC regardless of who initiated the contact.
Hartzell believed the school only had to disclose if the SEC reached out to Texas.
Under Bylaw 3.2(2), it states: “If a third party offers to, or attempts to induce a Member to, leave the Conference and/or breach or not to fully perform its future obligations under the Grant of Rights Agreement and the Member does not both (1) inform the Conference of such action as promptly as possible (but in any event not later than twelve (12) hours after such action) and (2) immediately and unconditionally reject that offer in a form and manner reasonably acceptable to the Commissioner.”
That legality might have to get resolved in court. In the meantime, Hartzell painted a picture of greener pastures and bigger games for Texas in the SEC.
The decision has left the Irving-based Big 12 facing an uncertain future, particularly the three remaining schools in Texas (TCU, Baylor and Texas Tech). Representatives from each school discussed the importance of playing in a power conference such as the Big 12 with flagships such as UT and Oklahoma coming to town.
With those two schools leaving for the SEC, the Big 12 could dissolve.
Hartzell served as UT’s only speaker during the hearing as athletic director Chris Del Conte declined an invitation.
Most of the committee peppered Hartzell and took shots at UT as it will leave the Fort Worth, Lubbock and Waco communities in jeopardy of losing hundreds of millions in economic impact.
“If you’re as big and great as you think you are, you should have made the Big 12 equal or better than the SEC,” Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) said. “You didn’t do it.”
Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), a former TCU women’s golfer, brought up TCU’s 7-2 record against UT since joining the Big 12 in 2012.
“Maybe you’d rather lose to Alabama than TCU,” she said.
As far as UT is concerned, though, the SEC is the place to be. Hartzell expressed concern about what the Big 12’s next TV package would have looked like when the grant-of-rights expired following the 2024-25 season.
Hartzell added that UT’s brand and recruiting prospects increase by joining the SEC, which has produced more NFL players than any other in recent years. In the name, image and likeness era of college sports, being on the biggest platform is critical, according to UT brass.
“In my opinion, the SEC has more upside as a platform to enhance our student athlete’s brand than the Big 12,” Hartzell said.
Hartzell said he explored the idea of joining the ACC, Pac-12 or Big Ten, but never reached out to those respective conferences. He went on to say that he and OU president Joe Harroz had a “mutual concern about where things were heading” in college sports during a meeting in fall of 2020.
That led to the eventual contact with the SEC in the spring and the notification of departure from the Big 12 last week. Hartzell said the expectation is for the Longhorn Network to “wind down but we haven’t talked specifically about what that will look like.”
At the end of the day, Hartzell stressed that he acted in what he felt was the best interest of Texas. He described a close circle of UT executives who made the decision including himself, Del Conte and UT Board of Regents chairman Kevin Eltife.
In one of the lighter moments of the day, Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) complimented Hartzell and UT for keeping it under wraps as long as they did.
“In a building that you can’t keep a secret, it’s a hell of a deal,” Whitmire said. “Admiral (William) McRaven would be proud of you, because you pulled it off like a special ops program. I just wonder, did you even tell your wives?”
Hartzell chuckled at that just like he did at the speculation UT might pay OU’s exit fee if the two decide to leave before the grant-of-rights expire in four years.
“I won’t pay out their exit fee,” Hartzell said.
But they’ll gladly walk into the SEC together in 2025, at the latest.
“We feel like the SEC has more stability and security to be in a better spot in 2025 than the Big 12 does,” Hartzell said.
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