Texas, Oklahoma face tough – but not impossible – path to first college football superconference

Texas and Oklahoma are at the center of what could be another major change in college football’s realignment – perhaps the biggest in the history of the sport.

According to a report released Wednesday by the Houston Chronicle, the 12 grandes écoles have reached out to the Southeastern Conference to join it in another round of realignment. The Chronicle, citing “a senior academic official with knowledge of the situation,” said their addition could be dealt with by the conference “within a few weeks”. The SEC would effectively become the premier superconference in college football.

A Texas spokesperson, speaking to The Chronicle, said he had no knowledge of the SEC talks before declining to comment further. Oklahoma also issued a statement in response to the news, “The landscape of varsity athletics is constantly changing. We do not respond to all anonymous rumors.”

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SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey declined to comment on the Chronicle before later telling reporters at SEC Media Days that the conference was not going beyond this year.

“We are only worried about the 2021 season,” he said. “Someone dropped a report from anonymous people.”

AL.com The Chronicle’s report corroborated, saying that “several college football insiders” confirmed that rivals Red River had taken “several steps” to facilitate a move. It is uncertain whether the schools would act independently of each other or would act jointly in an attempt to leave the Big 12.

The Longhorns and Sooners have been member institutions since the formation of the Big 12 in 1996, when the former Southwest Conference schools Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech were added to the Big 8. The conference suffered significant losses during the years. of the last round of college football’s realignment. at the turn of the decade, founding members from Colorado and Nebraska leaving for the Pac-12 and Big Ten, respectively, in 2011. Missouri and Texas A&M followed suit after the 2011 season to join the SEC.

Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said in response to the Chronicle’s report that the SEC announcements did not discuss adding Texas or Oklahoma. He also scoffed at the idea of ​​Texas joining the SEC. By Ross Dellnger of Sports Illustrated:

Bjork’s opposition to the move isn’t the only hurdle Texas and Oklahoma face if they want to jump out of the Big 12. Here’s a breakdown of the multiple hurdles that could prevent schools from turning the SEC into one. super conference:

Existing broadcast agreements with ESPN, Fox

According to a report by Front Office Sports, the SEC earned $ 728.9 million in fiscal 2020, about $ 300 million more than the Big 12’s reported profits ($ 409.2 million). This difference, coupled with the SEC’s new deal with ESPN – which is expected to pay the conference more than $ 300 million annually and is expected to come into effect in 2024 – would be appealing to any outside teams looking to capitalize on the popularity of the SEC. .

Additionally, ESPN and Fox – who own the broadcast and streaming rights to Big 12 – would have refused to enter the first televised negotiations with the conference before the agreement ends in 2025.

That said, the existing Big 12 rights deal with these networks could scramble potential negotiations between Texas, Oklahoma and the SEC. Texas has its own deal with ESPN in the form of the Longhorn Network, which pays the school $ 15 million per year and contractually obliges the network to broadcast 200 Texas sporting events per school year through 2031.

In 2019, the Big 12 and ESPN revamped their broadcast agreement – which ends in 2025 – to allow every member school besides Texas and Oklahoma to provide inventory to ESPN +. The deal, as reported by the Sports Business Journal (via Austin American-Stateman) contributes $ 22 million annually to the conference. Oklahoma sold its third-level rights to Fox.

ESPN may rework the Longhorn Network deal in case Texas and Oklahoma switch to the SEC, but Fox would likely be unhappy to part ways with his two biggest college football assets before the Big contract ends. 12 in 2025. Additionally, the addition of two SEC teams would reduce the amount each member institution would get from the new ESPN rights deal; ESPN may be required to pay more on an annual basis in its agreement with the conference.

ESPN could consider this move, as it could be offset by the denial of a future TV rights deal with a much less attractive Big 12.

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The 12 big exit fees

If Texas and Oklahoma were to leave the Big 12 before their TV deals were concluded, it would cost both schools a significant amount of money. For example, Nebraska and Colorado paid an exit fee of $ 9.25 million and $ 6.86 million, respectively, to leave for their new conferences. Missouri and Texas A&M both paid $ 12.4 million to leave for the SEC.

Those fees, however, were paid in 2010 and 2011 – before the Big 12 signed a 13-year, $ 2.6 billion rights deal with Fox and ESPN. It’s unclear how much Texas and Oklahoma would have to pay in exit fees if they left for the SEC before 2025, but it would almost certainly be more than what Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Texas A&M paid. to leave the Big 12.

The Longhorns and Sooners might be willing to incur this penalty with the SEC’s promise of future earnings – but would its member institutions be willing to accept it?

Opposition from Texas A&M, Missouri

It is likely that Texas A&M and Missouri would strongly consider barring Texas and Oklahoma from entering the conference, if the matter were to be voted on by SEC chairmen. It’s clear the two institutions – along with Colorado and Nebraska – left the Big 12 to escape Texas’ long shadow at the conference, in part because of its dedicated network and the disproportionate power it wielded. over its counterparts.

Bjork has previously said he opposes any move from Texas to the SEC. The conference statutes state that at least 11 of the 14 schools must vote yes to extend an invitation to a potential new school.

While the initial inclination of Bjork and A&M chairman Michael Young would likely be against Texas, promises of increased revenues could create pressure within the conference for a “yes” vote.

Additional SEC, Big 12 resistance

It’s unclear how other SEC schools outside of Missouri and Texas A&M would vote on this issue. Adding the top two Big 12 programs to a conference that already includes Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Auburn – not to mention Texas A&M and Missouri – would make it unusually harder for teams to win the conference title and earn a college spot in the football playoffs.

There’s also the issue of the divisions realigning, which would likely leave several teams unhappy. Texas and Oklahoma could move to SEC West, forcing Alabama and Auburn east, much to the chagrin of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. Teams out west – Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Mississippi State – probably wouldn’t be happy with the additions either.

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The SEC could also split the teams into different divisions, as it did with Texas A&M and Missouri in 2012, which, on paper, would create more balance between the divisions. Or, the conference could consider a pod scheduling format, which would likely sacrifice parity or traditional conference rivalries. Additionally, teams are unlikely to respond positively – at least behind closed doors – to any additional competition.

The Big 12 teams have already released statements in response to the news, such as the one from Oklahoma State:

Besides football, the SEC is also reportedly considering other sports. Texas and Oklahoma would offer powerful programs in basketball, softball, baseball, gymnastics, men’s and women’s golf and more. These would add to the impressive inventory of content already available to ESPN, which could make a new rights deal more lucrative for the network, the SEC and its member institutions. Not to mention the academic merits of these universities.

But soccer is first and foremost in the SEC, and any additional hurdles the conference might face regarding the sport – especially with the playoff realignment looming – could be enough to hinder the admission of Texas and Oklahoma.

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