Implications of Texas, Oklahoma’s interest in moving to Southeastern Conference

Matthew Boncosky

The college sports world was sent into a frenzy Wednesday when the Houston Chronicle reported that both Texas and Oklahoma have reached out to the SEC about potentially joining the conference and departing from the Big 12.

“An announcement could come within a couple of weeks concerning the potential addition of UT and OU to the league,” the report said.

The addition of Texas and Oklahoma, the two programs in the Big 12 that generate the most revenue, would bring the SEC to 16 teams and form the first collegiate superconference. It would also spell disaster for the remaining eight teams in the Big 12, as the conference would have to quickly expand or risk collapse. The move would also set off another round of landscape changing conference realignment, which hasn’t been seen since the beginning of the 2010s when the Big 12 lost Texas A&M, Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado.

Why move to the SEC?

The SEC is currently recognized as the most competitive college football conference, which allows it to generate the most money from TV deals with broadcast networks that gets distributed evenly to all of the schools within the conference. The SEC paid out $45.5 million to each of its teams last year, the most of any league. The SEC is already expected to hand out $60 million annual payments to its schools with the arrival of a new exclusive TV deal with ESPN in 2024, so the addition of two college football blue bloods would set the conference up to cash in with the next deal. 

ESPN also operates the SEC Network and makes payments to each SEC school as part of the agreement. With more of the Texas and Oklahoma TV markets, ESPN could charge more for the network to be transmitted to cable and satellite operators, generating even more revenue for itself and the conference.

Potential roadblocks

The report coincided with Texas A&M’s appearance at SEC Media Days, where the Aggies’ director of athletics, Ross Bjork, made it clear where Texas A&M brass stands on Texas joining the SEC.

“We want to be the only SEC program in the state of Texas,” Bjork said. “There’s a reason why Texas A&M left the Big 12 — to be stand alone, to have our own identity and that’s our feeling.”

The tacit admission that Texas A&M’s move to the SEC was about getting out of Texas’ shadow, in addition to financial reasons, suggests that the Aggies will lead the charge in trying to block the move. Oklahoma State also released a statement saying it would be, “gravely disappointed,” if the reports are true and that it would, “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.”

According to the SEC bylaws, at least three-fourths of SEC schools must be on board in order to formally invite any new members. The Aggies therefore must convince three other SEC schools to vote against extending Texas and Oklahoma an invitation. 

However, conferences usually come to a consensus when voting on conference membership and there does not appear to be strong opposition outside of College Station, according to a report from Yahoo Sports.

While Texas A&M, Alabama and others would no longer be able to flaunt SEC status to potential recruits from Texas and Oklahoma, the larger financial pie and expansion of conference power could be too much for the other SEC schools to pass up.

Another potential roadblock is the existence of the Longhorn Network, a partnership between the University of Texas, ESPN and IMG College. The current contract for the cable network runs through 2031 and would conflict with the SEC Network if Texas were to join the SEC.

Implications at large

If the move does go through, the remaining eight schools in the Big 12 would be forced to grapple with what to do next. The conference would not be able to compete with the other power conferences for revenue without its two biggest programs, so the Big 12 would need to expand quickly or risk total collapse.

Texas would also receive a stronger slate of home games for its fans by switching conferences. With the annual Texas-Oklahoma game taking place in Dallas and Texas A&M’s departure from the Big 12 in 2012, marquee matchups at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium have been reduced to out-of-conference scheduling.

Fans would welcome the chance to renew old rivalries with current SEC schools Arkansas, Missouri and Texas A&M in addition to regular visits from Alabama, LSU, Georgia and others.

Regardless, college sports is heading toward a conference power grab not seen since the first round of realignment a decade ago. The formation of an SEC superconference would spur the remaining power conferences to attempt similar acquisitions to remain competitive. If the first round of realignment was any indication, things are about to get very dramatic.