Oklahoma football: How will dust settle following OU’s realignment?

While the greater impact of OU’s conference relocation to the SEC has to do with Oklahoma football, it is a move that will affect all OU athletics.

It is sure to provide a greater competitive challenge for the Sooners in softball, baseball  and women’s gymnastics, two of which are premier sports for Oklahoma nationally, but there is no doubt that football was the driving force for not only why but how the move from the Big 12 to the SEC came about.

Let’s be real, the developments that led up to college football’s blockbuster story just a week or two ahead of the 2021 preseason training period is all about three Rs: revenue, recruiting and, oh, yeah, recognition.

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit called it the beginning of an all-out college football “arms race.”

Don’t expect the action taken by OU and Texas to be the final word on conference realignment or the consolidation of college football as we’ve grown to know it into two or three large superconferences. What once was the Power Five conferences will become the Power Two or Power Three.

There’s no denying that money — and the opportunity to bring in more of it — was the engine that brought all parties together and closed the deal in the SEC inviting Oklahoma and Texas to join the league and, less than 24 hours after that, the regents of both schools voting unanimously to accept the invitation.

SEC member schools were already getting a large annual payout, estimated to be around $45.5 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year, as reported by USA Today. With the addition of OU and Texas, the revenue jump per school is anticipated to be as much as $15 million, or $60 million per school.

And that revenue stream will likely grow even more as a result of a new 10-year, $3 billion — that’s billion with a “b” — television deal with ESPN that will make the network the exclusive rights holder of SEC football and men’s basketball beginning in 2024. Another enticement for Oklahoma to leave the Big 12 earlier than the announced June 2025 time frame.

While the SEC’s exclusive deal with ESPN doesn’t guarantee that Oklahoma won’t have any 11 a.m. kickoffs when it becomes part of that conference, Sooner fans are hopeful it won’t be as many.

Since the 2017 season, the first year under Lincoln Riley as head coach, Oklahoma has played at least five early kickoff games every season, most of those on FOX, which is one of the two TV networks that have a current agreement with the Big 12. And two of the Sooners’ first three games on the 2021 schedule are 11 a.m. games (Sept. 4 at Tulane and Sept. 11 at home against former conference foe Nebraska)..

FOX’s premier Saturday game was its “Big Noon Kickoff” game, which frequently featured the six-time defending Big 12 champions.

Recruiting as an SEC school will become a double-edged sword

Oklahoma recruiting classes have regularly been in the top 10 or 15 in the country since 2000. It would be easy to conclude that as a member of the strongest football conference in the land the Sooners’ recruiting efforts would also benefit. Except that Oklahoma is already a national recruiting brand.

It’s true that OU brings in much of its talent from the states of Texas and Oklahoma, but the Sooners have also been successful in recent seasons landing players from California and Florida. Prospects from SEC states might be more willing to sign with Oklahoma as a member of the SEC, but the Sooners will also be competing with SEC schools that are consistently among the highest ranked recruiting classes year in and year out.

The OU recruiting footprint and access to top talent will increase, but so too will the competition for that same talent.

There’s a big difference in the image of the SEC and that of the Big 12

Make no mistake, the move to the SEC, especially pertaining to football but for basketball and other sports as well, is also about brand reputation and stability.

Oklahoma has been a well established national brand in football since the 1950s. Relocating to what everyone who follows college football recognizes as the best football conference can only enhance and strengthen the Oklahoma brand.

The Sooners are the sixth winningest college football team of all-time. Along with No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Texas, Oklahoma gives the SEC three of the six winningest college programs of all-time.

The SEC is not as strong a basketball league as the Big 12, but for a program like Oklahoma’s, there is probably greater upside for the Sooners in the SEC, where the level of talent and competition at the top of the league is not pronounced as in the Big 12.

Softball and women’s gymnastics are another matter entirely, The Sooners have won three of the last five national championships in softball, They have dominated the Big 12, winning eight consecutive conference championships. As in football, Oklahoma will be going to a conference that traditionally contains some of the country’s top softball programs.

The same goes for women’s gymnastics, where, in the past five years, OU has won three national championships and been national runner-up twice. Several SEC schools have been strong nationally in the sport as well. This improved level of competition can only enhance the Sooners’ performance and reputation in the sport.