Photo courtesy of Patrick Meredith/Texas Athletics
Remember when the (then) Pac-10 was looking to absorb roughly half of the Big 12 in 2011?
The deal all but seemed inventible.
Ultimately, it fell apart in the 11th hour after the Pac-10 would not allow Texas to have its own network, mas o menos. It appears “Texas is back” at the center of some potentially seismic realignment news.
First reported by the Houston Chronicle, the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma have reached out to the Southeastern Conference about potentially joining the league. Early statements made by Texas, Oklahoma, and even SEC commissioner Greg Sankey did not confirm, nor deny, these reports.
Two of the most recognizable brands in all of college football control a Power 5 conference. What exactly would motivate them to leave?
The Playoff (Money)
College Football Playoff expansion is on the horizon. Nobody knows just how soon that will be. But it is coming. Schools have already started adjusting their non-conference scheduling with this in mind. Expansion will bring more marquee games to their campuses without the threat of one loss ruining a potential playoff run.
The SEC, which annually laps the field in highly-ranked recruiting classes and NFL Draft selections, would almost undoubtedly get the benefit of the doubt if teams are only losing to SEC opponents. A 3- or even a 4-loss SEC team still has a great chance of getting into the playoff.
Currently, each Power 5 conference gets $67 million, with $6 million going to each playoff participant. Under the new playoff expansion, those numbers could triple. It doesn’t take an accountant’s brain to understand just what type of money there is to be made by the programs in the SEC.
The Money Isn’t Just for the Schools
Name, Image, and Likeliness (NIL) has burst onto the scene with new endorsement and sponsorship deals being reported hourly. Texas and Oklahoma in the SEC means more eyeballs and more recognition. That ultimately leads to more potential deals for players.
Alabama’s Bryce Young, who has attempted a whopping 22 passes in a Crimson Tide uniform, is already close to securing seven figures in endorsement deals.
That type of potential becomes another recruiting pitch for Texas and Oklahoma. Those traditional Southwestern powers would be able to lure prospects simply by saying, “we play in the SEC.”
As of this moment, the extent of how serious and/or imminent this move is remains unknown. We do know that Oklahoma has been very critical of its kickoff times recently, and the Big 12 has its own well-documented history of instability.
So what would be stopping this realignment domino from falling?
Aggies, Tigers, and Cowboys
SEC bylaws require 75% of the conference to be in favor of any school receiving membership. That means it only takes three schools to block any addition to the conference. Both Texas and Oklahoma’s in-state rivals made some strong statements.
Texas A&M’s athletic director Ross Bjork told Paul Finebaum on Wednesday, “There’s a reason we left the Big 12…We want to be the only SEC team from the state of Texas.” He later added, “Perhaps there’s a reason Texas and OU are looking around.” Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman reported that Missouri would also be “a hard no.”
In a statement put out by Oklahoma State, it also expressed its disapproval. “If true, we would be gravely disappointed. While we place a premium on history, loyalty and trust, be assured, we will aggressively defend and advance what is best for Oklahoma State.” While the Cowboys do not ultimately hold a vote in the move, this type of titanic move would result in statehouse politics becoming another hurdle to clear.
The Big 12 grant of rights runs until 2025. The failed Longhorn Network deal between ESPN and Texas runs through 2031. In order for either Texas or Oklahoma to make the move to the SEC before 2025, the schools would have to give up their media rights and pay a buyout equal to the amount of distributions for the last two years of their respective membership.
According to Bryan Fischer of Athlon sports, that is approximately $75 million. Then there is the issue of the SEC television deal pie now having to get split with two other schools. ESPN, which starting in 2024 will own all SEC rights, would then have to pay out even more to the conference so each school would still get the slice they were originally promised when the new deal was struck. FOX would still have Big 12 rights and would also be seeking to hold onto those rights or be handsomely bought out for them.
What Does This Mean to the Big 12?
If you are Big 12 Commission Bob Bowlsby, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, TCU, Iowa State, or West Virginia, the news is unsettling. This news is simply the newest and largest crack in the foundation of the Big 12. The eight remaining teams do not have enough national clout to carry the league.
If this move came to fruition, the conference would have to scramble to add programs to the league or to finally crumble down to the ground as schools would then have to find a new home. If the latter happens, it most certainly would be the creation of the long-theorized super conferences.
As Bob Dylan said “Times Are A-Changin'”
The NCAA was dealt a major blow by the Supreme Court a month ago. NCAA president Mark Emmert publicly stated one week ago that he and the NCAA essentially need to have less power and control.
NIL is here to stay and certainly will bring long-lasting changes. The current environment is ripe for the next evolution. If the SEC members can keep “Horns Down” votes to a minimum, the Big 12 will find itself akin to the Southwestern Conference. College football’s current chapter would officially end.
I see a realignment of the PAC-12 with the balance of the schools in the Big 12, if this happens. PAC-12 has expressed need to expand coverage into the central region of the country. Bigger issue at play is the future of the NCAA. Super conferences can start negotiations with streaming providers for TV rights, potentially eliminating the relevance of the NCAA.
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