Oklahoma football: Latest conference chaos may expedite OU’s exodus

Dec 1, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; A general view of the SEC logo prior to the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs during the SEC championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 1, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; A general view of the SEC logo prior to the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs during the SEC championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

Keeping up with the Joneses is the driving force in the ever-changing and chaotic world of college conference realignment, and the latest moves on that front could speed up the timeline for when Oklahoma football will take up its new home in the SEC.

The latest rendition of conference realignment– or when the big conferences continue to get richer and bigger, leaving the smaller ones on the edge of extinction — has Pac-12 kingpins USC and UCLA going to the Big Ten. That announcement coming almost a year after Oklahoma and Texas declared their exit from the Big 12 to side up with the SEC.

Earlier this year, the Big 12 announced that Cincinnati, UCF and Houston, current members of the American Athletic Conference, would be joining the Big 12 along with BYU. And a month ago, after it was reported that the three AAC schools had negotiated an exit date, the Big 12 announced that the four new schools would be joining the Big 12 in the summer of 2023.

When OU and Texas formally announced in 2021 that they were leaving the Big 12, both schools said they intended to fulfill their existing grant of media rights agreement, which doesn’t expire until 2025. No one really believes that the Sooners and Longhorns will still be members of the Big 12 for the full term of that agreement.

With four new teams joining the Big 12 in 2023 and UCLA and USC announcing that they are jumping ship and heading to the Big Ten for the 2024 season, I believe that will be enough impetus for Oklahoma and Texas to negotiate an early exit from the Big 12 as early as 2024, or two years ahead of what would be the full term of their media rights agreement. They will no doubt incur a financial penalty, but let’s be honest, both schools can easily make that up with the revenue bump they will receive from the SEC revenue distribution.

The Big 12 will be up to 14 teams in 2023…and counting

The way things stand right now, however, it appears Oklahoma and Texas will still be around in 2023, which would result in a 14-team structure, and the Big 12 has indicated it may not be finished adding more teams. The conference is reported to be in serious discussions with the two Arizona Pac-12 schools as well as former Big 12 school Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Utah.

If the Big 12 were successful in adding as many as six other Pac-12 schools, that would leave the Pac-12 as just a shell of its former self and on the verge of collapsing all together. Moreover, it would give the Big 12 a leg up over the ACC in surviving all this Power Five shakeup that I believe is going to eventually end up as the Power 3 or perhaps better put as the Power 2+.

It’s important to remember, all of this scrambling about and conference jumping is football-driven and really about not being left out when all the dust finally settles. What this unfortunately means is that huge basketball schools like Kansas and Duke, as an example, which historically have not been strong football brands, could be left scrambling to find a new conference home.

The SEC and Big Ten may not be finished with expansion, but the pickings are sure to be slimmer because both of those conference believe they have already picked off the best of the rest.

Sans OU and Texas, the Big 12 structure would increase to 18 members. That would be bigger than the 16-team structure that would exist in the Big Ten and SEC after the additions of UCLA and USC in the Big Ten and the Sooners and Longhorns in the SEC. That may not bother either the SEC or Big Ten, however, because the revenue stream and brand composition of those two conferences would clearly dwarf that of the reconstructed Big 12.

From five power conferences to two, possibly three, super conferences?

None of this, however, speaks to what will or might happen with the Atlantic Coast Conference, which currently boasts 15 members. No disrespect intended, but with the exception of Clemson and at one time Florida State and Miami, the ACC is a basketball-driven league. To some degree, you could also say that about the Big 12 after Oklahoma and Texas switch allegiance.

The question is not whether either the ACC and Big 12 will remain viable after all the power-mongering has divided up and reallocated the biggest of the football brands — again, were talking about the main driver behind the entire realignment movement — but can they remain at a competitive level both in terms of revenue generation and distribution as well as the quality of the athletic product to be viewed and respected on equal terms, as they are presently.

That is a question for which there isn’t a clear answer at present, but it has become abundantly clear college football, and college athletics in general, is rapidly changing and will never again be the same as we once knew it. This commentary is about conference realignment, but the other big changes taking place with the transfer portal and Name, Image and Likeness are adding additional fuel to the fire that is engulfing the entire Super Conference movement

Once the latest round of conference musical chairs has been played out — and it won’t be the last round, I can assure you — what was once five so-called Power Conferences will be down to four and teetering toward what will eventually become no more than three Super Conferences. But the true economic value in terms of revenue distribution will predominantly reside in just two: the SEC and the Big Ten.

Data projections made in March by the firm Navigate, and reported by the Oklahoma FanNation website, for the Big 12 revenue distribution in 2022, which includes Oklahoma and Texas, were estimated at $40.3 million per school. The comparable forecast for the Big Ten was $57.2 million and $54.3 million for the SEC. To finish out the revenue comparison among Power Five schools, the Pac-12 was forecast at $34.4 million and the ACC at $30.9 million.

When the Sooners and Longhorns become full-fledged members of the SEC, the revenue figure per school is expected to jump to around $75-80 million, almost double what they presently receive from the Big 12.

Sooners are fully aware and prepared for what they’re getting into

In the category of “Be careful what you ask for,” there are plenty who believe Oklahoma won’t be nearly as successful in the SEC as it has been in the Big 12 and will always be a notch below Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU insofar as competing for SEC championships.

Historically, Oklahoma has held its own against teams from the Southeastern Conference. The Sooners have gone head-to-head against 12 of the 14 current SEC teams and have a winning record against eight of those teams. Most of OU’s head-to-head encounters against SEC teams naturally have come against Missouri and Texas A&M, former members of the Big 12.  The Sooners are 67-24-5 all-time against Missouri and 19-12 against the Aggies.

Against everyone else in the SEC, Oklahoma owns a 24-13-2 record all-time and a winning record over 8 of the 12 SEC teams they have played. That includes a 3-2-1 record against Alabama.

So, to think Oklahoma won’t be able to compete and do well in the SEC is not supported by fact. For one thing, with an SEC presence, OU recruiting, which has been at a top-10/top-15 level for the past two decades, can only be enhanced, and I can assure you that the Sooners won’t be going to the SEC with a middle-of-the-pack mentality.

That’s never been the Oklahoma way, and it’s not the Oklahoma standard.

Warning to the SEC: The Sooners are coming, and they’ll be bringing h— with them!