Oklahoma and Texas shocked the world of college football this week when reports leaked of a deal to bring the two programs into the SEC. Jake is here to tell you all you need to know.
Oklahoma and Texas Bombshell
In a bombshell moment unlike anything else college football has seen for a decade since the last conference realignment, the Houston Chronicle has reported that Oklahoma and Texas have approached the SEC about becoming members of the conference.
The report comes after a “high ranking SEC official with knowledge of the situation” leaked the news to the Chronicle. What gives this an immense amount of weight is that neither Texas, Oklahoma nor the SEC have denied the report.
Greg Sankey, SEC Commissioner refused to comment on the report at the 2021 SEC Media Days yesterday saying, “No comment on that speculation.” Sankey later added: “We are only worried about the 2021 season. Somebody dropped a report from unnamed people.” You can see that this is not a denial.
A spokesperson from the Texas Longhorns commented, “Speculation swirls around collegiate athletics. We will not address the speculation”. Whilst the Sooners said “the college athletics landscape is shifting constantly. We don’t address every anonymous rumor”. Again, there is no denial present in these non-answers.
This is not a down-the-road type of discussion, either. The spokesperson who leaked the information also added that this announcement could come within the next few weeks. This would make the SEC the first national super-conference and change the landscape of college football irrevocably.
As expected, Texas A&M have voiced their displeasure at the news. Ross Bjork, A&M’s Athletic Director made some surface comments, chief of which was “we want to be the only SEC program in the state of Texas. There’s a reason Texas A&M left the Big 12: to stand alone to have our own identity”. The Aggies have had their fair share of criticism from Oklahoma and Texas fans for their program’s jump to the SEC. It seems as though they’ll soon be joining A&M in the conference where it “just means more”.
Oklahoma State followed suit with a statement of their own. A statement from the Cowboys read “we are gathering information and will monitor closely. 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 and our strong athletic program, which continues to excel in the Big 12 and nationally”. Both Oklahoma State and the Big XII conference have nothing to gain from the potential departure of Oklahoma and Texas.
However, we all know money talks in college football. If the two biggest powers in the Big XII want to leave the conference, there isn’t much the other member schools can do to stop them. On the SEC side, Oklahoma and Texas must have a 75% majority vote to allow them to join. According to reports, the acquiescence of SEC programs won’t be an issue. Greg Sankey has considerable sway within the conference and is arguably the most powerful man in college football.
Why would Oklahoma and Texas want to leave?
One of the chief factors is money. Already, teams in the SEC take home more in distributed revenue. It won’t have gone unnoticed that ESPN renegotiated their rights deal with the SEC during the pandemic. The new agreement starting in 2024 is worth $300 million annually.
As a result, a TV consultant for the BIG XII approached FOX and ESPN about renegotiating their current deal. The BIG XII made it aware to their TV partners that they would be open to a new deal that would give the conference a little less per year but a lot more security. Both ESPN and FOX said no thank you. If you are Oklahoma and Texas, seeing the SEC get this sort of preferential treatment is a spur in the side.
Then there is the factor of ‘Name, Image and Likeness’ (NIL) laws that have recently opened up college football to an entirely new dynamic. Boosters are now effectively allowed to pay players through sponsorship deals and commercial agreements. Texas has always looked down its nose at the SEC. The pervading aspect of this is that the SEC has always been seen as a conference that will do whatever it can to win. Now, players can (in a roundabout way) be paid. That air of moral superiority that wafts through Austin has vanished. Texas has the money, and based on that standpoint would excel in recruiting with the SEC patch on their jersey.
The expanded playoff
It is widely assumed that a 12 team playoff is the direction college football is heading. To those who shouted, “Oklahoma and Texas will never go better than 10-2 in the SEC,” you might be right. But with a new playoff format, 10-2 is all that will be needed to make the postseason. In a conference that contains Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M, there will be years where a 9-3 team from the SEC is safely within the 12 selected.
We are far from the finish line on this. Despite the high ranking SEC official asserting an announcement could come within weeks, there is a considerable amount of deal making and discussion that still has to happen. However, if the two biggest powers in the BIG XII want the same thing as the most powerful conference in college football, you can bet it’ll take something seismic to stop it from happening.
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