Oklahoma football: Why OU is willing to give up King of Hill status

Oct 12, 2019; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) runs past Texas Longhorns defensive lineman Ta'Quon Graham (49) during the second half at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 12, 2019; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) runs past Texas Longhorns defensive lineman Ta'Quon Graham (49) during the second half at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

If you are a diehard fan of Oklahoma football, you know that OU and Texas don’t like each other very much.

That’s why it’s somewhat ironic that the two schools apparently have joined hands in the decision that it’s time to break away from the Big 12 and plant their respective flags in greener pastures, with special emphasis on the word “greener.”

To be completely honest, though, the heated, hatred rivalry thing is really more of a fandom thing because the top officials at both schools actually get along very nicely. Both schools have new presidents appointed in 2020. Joseph Harroz Jr. became the 15th OU president in May 2020, replacing David Boren, who retired two years earlier.

Outside of the second Saturday in October every year, when all the emotion and serious competitiveness between the two schools and their fans in on full display amid the State Fair of Texas in Dallas, the two institutions of higher learning have a strong working relationship.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

Although to the general public the reports of Oklahoma and Texas leaving the Big 12 for the perceived greener pastures of the SEC are still hot off the press, according to an OU source who has been close to the situation the whole way through and spoke with The Oklahoman on the condition of anonymity, discussions with the SEC have been going on for upward of a year.

It has been reported that the two schools plan to notify the Big 12 on Monday that they are not going to vote to renew the Big 12 grant of rights agreement beyond its expiration in 2025. That becomes the first necessary step clearing the path for OU and Texas leaving the Big 12.

The OU source said an official announcement that the Sooners and Longhorns are moving to the SEC could come before next weekend. The source also said that head coach Lincoln Riley has been informed about the situation for some time and is completely supportive.

Money is a major motivating factor, of course, in Oklahoma’s desire to explore another conference affiliation and leave a conference with which it was a founding member and has been affiliated with in various forms since 1919.

Another big factor, according to the source, is the growing belief by university administrators within the conference that the Big 12 is not viable and sustainable long term. “It’s pretty clear that there’s not a long-term future in the Big 12,” the source said.

From a financial perspective, the fact that both the ESPN and FOX networks declined to open early negotiations to extend the media contracts with the Big 12 beyond 2025 served as a telling sign that the future of the conference was approaching some tenuous times.

In the eyes of OU officials, the signs that the Big 12 was in decline have been ominous for several years. There is the belief at OU that the Big 12 has become stagnant and has become more of a follower than a leader in looking ahead and planning for the future.

One writer has referred to Oklahoma and Texas as the two oxen who have pulled the Big 12’s cart. Unfortunately for the remaining eight members, with OU and UT out of the picture, you can pretty much begin writing the obituary for the Big 12 Conference, at least as a power conference.

In its current structure, the Big 12 has been paying out $38 million annually to its members. That’s not that far off from the $44 million payout to SEC member schools. Although it is estimated the addition of OU and Texas to the SEC coffers will expand the per-school payout to close to $60 million, which would amount to a $22 million increase for the Sooners and Longhorns.

Another OU source explained it this way to The Oklahoman:

“If you’re a university with a big stadium and a big budget, you have got to move forward in a market that can sustain you.”

In the Big 12, Oklahoma football has been the big fish in a small pond — competitively speaking compared to the SEC’s top football reputation — but it serves no purpose to be the big fish in a pond that is slowly draining.

While most of us are just getting our arms around this seemingly out of the blue blockbuster development, and all kinds of questions and resulting ramifications remain unanswered, all indications are things should start moving pretty fast from here. It’s looking more and more like an official announcement is imminent.

And when it does, expect musical chairs to begin among the remaining eight Big 12 member schools.