Texas and Oklahoma Seek to Quit Big 12, Shaking Up College Sports

Texas and Oklahoma Seek to Quit Big 12, Shaking Up College Sports
portrait of Dean Golembeski
By Dean Golembeski

Published on July 30, 2021

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A year after the pandemic disrupted college sports, the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma continued the chaos by seeking to leave the Big 12 Conference and join the Southeastern Conference (SEC), a move that if successful could shake up other leagues across the country.

The presidents and chancellors from the SEC's 14 member schools voted unanimously on July 29 to invite Texas and Oklahoma to join their league, capping a series of fast-moving events.

"Today's unanimous vote is both a testament to the SEC's longstanding spirit of unity and mutual cooperation, as well as a recognition of the outstanding legacies of academic and athletic excellence established by the Universities of Oklahoma and Texas," SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement.

Just a day earlier, on July 28, the Texas A&M Board of Regents directed its university leadership to vote in favor of extending formal invitations to Texas and Oklahoma for membership into the SEC.

According to a press release, the board "concluded that this expansion would enhance the long-term value of the SEC to student athletes and all of the institutions they represent — including Texas A&M."

The Texas A&M board also noted that it "had concerns about the communication process" related to Texas and Oklahoma's move to the SEC. That process began on July 26 when Texas and Oklahoma said they might not renew their sports media rights contract with the Big 12 that is set to end in 2025.

Texas and Oklahoma were required to provide formal notification of their intent to quit the media rights deal under Big 12 bylaws. Media rights are the biggest source of revenue in college sports and quitting the deal was an indication of their plans to leave the Big 12.

"Providing notice to the Big 12 at this point is important in advance of the expiration of the conference's current media rights agreement," Texas and Oklahoma said at that time in a joint statement. "The universities intend to honor their existing grant of rights agreements. However, both universities will continue to monitor the rapidly evolving collegiate athletics landscape as they consider how best to position their athletics programs for the future."

Then, one day later on July 27, the two schools issued a statement saying they had formally asked to join the SEC on July 1, 2025. Sankey acknowledged the request and issued a statement.

"While the SEC has not proactively sought new members, we will pursue significant change when there is a clear consensus among our members that such actions will further enrich the experiences of our student-athletes and lead to greater academic and athletic achievement across our campuses," Sankey said in his statement.

Big 12 Disappointed With Texas and Oklahoma

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has strongly objected to any Texas and Oklahoma leaving his league.

"The events of recent days have verified that the two schools have been contemplating and planning for the transition for months and this formal application is the culmination of those processes. We are unwavering in the belief that the Big 12 provides an outstanding platform for its members' athletic and academic success," Bowlsby said in his statement. "We will face the challenges head-on, and we have confidence that the Big 12 will continue to be a vibrant and successful entity in the near term and into the foreseeable future."

Bowlsby said in a statement following that initial announcement by the two schools that the remaining Big 12 institutions will work together to position the conference for future success.

"Although our eight members are disappointed with the decisions of these two institutions, we recognize that intercollegiate athletics is experiencing rapid change and will most likely look much different in 2025 than it does currently," Bowlsby said. "The Big 12 Conference will continue to support our member institutions' efforts to graduate student-athletes, and compete for Big 12 and NCAA championships. Like many others, we will use the next four years to fully assess what the landscape will look like in 2025 and beyond."

SEC Would Become Super Conference With Texas and Oklahoma

If the two teams do eventually join the SEC, it would create a super conference that would generate millions more dollars of income from television revenue.Texas currently earns more than $223 million annually from its sports programs, which is tops in the nation. Oklahoma, with sports revenues of more than $163 million a year, is No. 8. But plans can change. In 2010, Texas and Oklahoma both considered joining what is now the Pac-12 before deciding to stick with the Big 12.

Texas and Oklahoma are members of the National Collegiate Athletic Conference, which has about 1,100 member schools. Given its vast size, it's not unusual for the NCAA to see some schools change conferences each year. In 2020, for example, the University of Connecticut quit the American Athletic Conference for the Big East. But conference changes among Power Five schools like Texas and Oklahoma is unusual and hasn't happened in about a decade.

The final outcome will have impact far beyond the Big 12 and SEC. The alignment of other conferences, TV contracts, millions of dollars and recruiting all will be at stake. Current players might decide to transfer if conference opponents change. High school athletes also might change their plans because a school they have chosen might no longer be facing the same opponents or receive the same TV exposure. There's much to be decided in the weeks and months ahead.


Feature Image: Tim Warner / Contributor / Getty Images Sport

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