Oklahoma football: Sooners’ move date to SEC no longer TBD

Oklahoma Sooners head coach Brent Venables, left, and Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian meet after the Red River Showdown college football game between the University of Oklahoma (OU) and Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. Texas won 49-0.Lx18920
Oklahoma Sooners head coach Brent Venables, left, and Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian meet after the Red River Showdown college football game between the University of Oklahoma (OU) and Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. Texas won 49-0.Lx18920 /
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The fog has finally cleared, and it appears that Oklahoma football and other Sooner athletic programs will be part of the Southeastern Conference beginning with the 2024-25 season.

An agreement in principle has been reached between the University of Oklahoma, the University of Texas and the Big 12 for the two schools to leave the conference after one more athletic season, which will allow them to be full-fledged members of the SEC beginning July 1, 2024, in time for the 2024 college football season.

Oklahoma and Texas will pay the Big 12 $100 million. A portion of that reportedly will be used to satisfy the Fox network, which was against an early exit because of the lost revenue from seven Oklahoma football games scheduled for airing on the network during the 2024 season.

Although the agreement appears to be a done deal, it still requires the approval of the Oklahoma and Texas Boards of Regents before it becomes final.

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The thinking all along when the administrations of both the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas first announced in July 2021 their intentions to exit the Big 12 for the SEC was that the two schools would not wait the full term of the Big 12 grant of rights, which at the time was scheduled to end on June 30, 2025, before negotiating an earlier exit.

For the last two years, while the rumor mill ran wild suggesting the Sooners and Longhorns would be leaving as early as the 2023 football or 2024 football season, the adminstrations of both schools insisted that they would fulfill the full term of the media rights contract and not leave the conference before the 2025 football season.

Although discussions between the Big 12 and the two departing schools have been going on for some time, it appeared that the talks had reached an impasse late last week when Fox, one of the two networks that have a media contract with the Big 12, reportedly was not willing to lose the revenue that would be lost by not airing football games involving Oklahoma and Texas in 2024.

The agreement reached by all parties provides a win-win for the Big 12, the two schools and the television networks. Oklahoma and Texas get to move on to the SEC and avoid playing out three lame-duck seasons after announcing their departure plans. The Big 12 gets compensated for the loss of potential revenue by not having its two biggest brands as part of the conference.

Exactly how Fox officials were appeased to allow the deal to go through is not clear, but it is anticipated that the network will receive financial consideration, possibly an expanded inventory of games to make up for the loss, or a combination of both.

The move to the SEC by the Sooners and Longhorns in time for the 2024 football season also coincides with the expansion of the College Football Playoff to 12 teams beginning with that season.

"“We are grateful to (Big 12) commissioner (Brett) Yormark and (Big 12) Chairman Shovanek for their concerted efforts to carve a patch forward and allow us to move ahead with clarity and certainty,” said Oklahoma President Joseph Harroz Jr.“…These terms furth guarantee the sustainability, stability, competitiveness and excellence of all of us.”"

Oklahoma is expected to make up a big portion of the financial payout to leave the Big 12 by the distribution the Sooners will receive from the SEC revenue distribution. USA Today reported this past week that the SEC had revenue of $802 million for the year ended August 31, 2022. Divided among the 14 current SEC schools, that comes to $49.9 million for each school. That annual number is expected to increase even more by the addition of Oklahoma and Texas.

What Oklahoma’s 2024 SEC schedule will look like is still to be determined. Although it’s not certain, the SEC is believed to be seriously considering a pod format, which would consist of four four-team units. Then, the consideration becomes which teams make up the four different pod structures. Is geography the primary determinant or natural rivalries.

As Oklahoman sports columnist Berry Tramel recently noted, there is a good likelihood the SEC schedule makers will go with a hybrid solution that takes into account a little bit of both.

"“The effects of the decision are vast,” Tramel wrote in a column this week. “Avoid annual games against Bama or Georgia, and your chances of success go way up. “You’ll still play at least one of the behemoths every year, but odds are you won’t have to play both.”"

Two different pod alignments — one geographically based and the other more rivaly oriented — have been talked about the most involving Oklahoma. One thing that is fairly certain is that OU and Texas will be in the same four-team configuration. One scenario has Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M in the same grouping. The other puts OU, Texas, Missouri and Arkansas together.

Whatever alignment comes to pass, another thing that is certain is that the road to the conference championship is going to be a lot tougher than was the case in the Big 12. As legendary Sooner head coach Barry Switzer said recently:

“It’ll look like were playing Texas every (expletive) week.”