July is typically a slow burn in college football news just a month or so ahead of the kickoff of a new season. But yesterday’s Oklahoma football news was a bombshell with aftershocks felt around the college football world.
The Houston Chronicle broke the story Wednesday afternoon that Oklahoma and Texas were in discussion with SEC officials about a potential move to that conference. Needless to say, that report sparked a flash fire throughout the popular news media and the reactionary social media world.
Berry Tramel, sports columnist for The Oklahoman described it this way:
“The news landed like Orson Welles’ ‘War of the Worlds’ (1938 radio broadcast). Half the people didn’t believe it, half the people did.”
The big difference, Tramel wrote, is: “The Martian invasion (in Welles’ famous radio drama) was fictional. OU and Texas exploring admission to the Southeastern Conference is all too real.”
While officials at both Oklahoma and Texas, of course, refused to comment on the speculation that these talks were occurring, reports from other news outlets beyond the Houston Chronicle make it sound like the situation is more real than not and has a better than fighting chance of getting consummated.
Brett McMurphy, who writes for Stadium, wrote on his Twitter account on Wednesday that, according to sources, “there is interest on both sides” (meaning between OU and Texas and the SEC) in such a realignment.
If you’re an Oklahoma fan, you have to ask yourself not why the Sooners might be interested in such a move at some point in time, but why now?
Oklahoma is the sultan of the Big 12 when it comes to football. And that is not likely to change in the near future. The Sooners have won six consecutive Big 12 championships and 14 total since the league came into being in 1996. By winning the Big 12, Oklahoma is generally assured every year of a high national ranking and a spot in the College Football Playoff under its current four-team format.
The Sooners are on top of the world in Big 12 football. That would not be the case were they to shift conferences and join the SEC. They would still be a very good team, but a big fish in a much larger and deeper body of water, particularly as it relates to the top half of the league. Given the increased competition level, Oklahoma might be hard pressed to be included as part of a proposed expansion to a 12-team playoff.
Becoming part of a powerhouse superconference might be fuel for the ego, but it is not the real motivation exploring a possible conference affiliation with the SEC. Pure and simple, this is all about money. And by the way, not just the increased revenue to be made by Oklahoma and Texas.
ESPN and CBS, which are prime carriers of SEC football, stand to gain financially if the SEC were bring both Oklahoma and Texas aboard and expand to 16 teams.
Jason Whitely of WFAA in Dallas-Ft. Worth added fuel to the fire late Wednesday night when he reported that Texas and Oklahoma planned to issue a joint memo to the Big 12 opting not to renew their media contracts when they expire in 2025.
We are going to hear arguments on both sides of this issue. Why it would be the right thing to do and why it wouldn’t.
If you’re an Oklahoma of Texas fan, you’re probably intrigued by the thought of becoming part of a conference with higher stability and held in much higher esteem in the sport of football, the most lucrative by far of all the collegiate athletic programs.
You’ve got to believe that membership in the SEC would also be a big boost to Oklahoma recruiting. The Sooners already recruit well in the rich breeding grounds of Texas and California. As an SEC member school they would be able to successfully expand into the SEC footprint, which also is rich in talent and establish a presence in a section of the country that has been relatively cut off to OU recruiting in the past.
But if you are from one of the other Big 12 schools, you view the potential departure of an OU and Texas as the ultimate demise of the Big 12 along with the fear of all the uncertainty that naturally would follow.
You can also count on the fact that Texas A&M will be doing everything it can to block the admission of Texas into the SEC. A&M allegedly left the Big 12 to get out of the shadow of Texas. I can’t see the Aggies being in favor of voting in their hated rivals from Austin.
One theory that has surfaced in the wake of Wednesday’s bombshell news is the Texas A&M was behind the leak to the Houston Chronicle in an effort to get the story out in the open and begin building resentment and resistance to such a union, and particularly with these two partners.
Speaking of voting in, for Oklahoma and Texas to join the SEC, should mutual interest reach that point, it would require a 75 percent vote of the existing SEC members, or for 11 schools to be in favor. A “no” vote by four schools would scupper the deal.
Oklahoma would definitely make more money in the SEC than it does in the Big 12. And that could have a lot to do with why all of this is hitting the fan now and not, say, several years from now when the current grant of rights agreement expires.
The COVID-19-threatened 2020 season seriously affected the revenue stream at every school in the country. The estimated revenue loss to the athletic budget at OU was estimated to be in the neighborhood of $40 million. That’s a sizeable hit in an athletic budget of close to $170 million.
By joining the SEC, Oklahoma would probably not only be able to offset the financial penalties incurred by leaving the Big 12 ahead of the 2025 athletic year with the incremental gain in revenue but be in a much better position in future years to manage the rising costs to the athletic budget which are anticipated to be in the tens of millions of dollars every year.
Appearing on ESPN’s morning show “Get Up,” Paul Finebaum, known by many around college football as the “Voice of the SEC,” said he believes the conversations between OU and Texas and SEC officials is pretty far down the road and moving quickly and that the Sooners and Longhorns are definitely moving in the direction of the SEC.
If Finebaum and others are right, expect the scramble among remaining Big 12 schools to find an acceptable landing spot to commence fairly quickly. The Big 12 will immediately begin taking in water and just as quickly take on lame duck status.
If you’re curious what an SEC realignment would look like with the addition of the Sooners and Longhorns, here is one potential scenario:
East Division: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
West Division: Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M.
Alabama and Auburn would move over to the East to make room for the Sooners and Longhorns in the West.
This is certain to be the big story in college football over the next month or so as more opinions, pro and con, are expressed and additional details are revealed. Whether this ends up being fact or fiction, the ramifications are here to stay.
Nothing in the Big 12 will be the same going forward.
Former football coach Lou Holtz liked to say: “When all is said and done, more is said than done.”
The sides to this story are forming, and at least one side is hoping that Holtz’s words are prescient.