Oklahoma football: SEC's debate over 8- or 9-game schedule has Red River implications

Ricardo Brazziell / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Oklahoma football rivalry with the University of Texas has been going on since 1900. At one point, in the early years of the 20th century, the Sooners and Longhorns were both members of the Southwest Conference (1915-19).

Seventy-seven years later they were reunited as members of the Big 12 Conference, although their annual football rivalry game continued most every year despite being affiliated with different conferences (there was a five-year period between 1924 and 1928 when they did not play each other).

Beginning this fall, the annual Red River Rivalry game will be played as part of the Southeastern Conference.

The initial thinking when it became official that Oklahoma and Texas would be joining the SEC and the conference members would grow to 16 teams that the conference schedule would be expanded from eight to nine games. After considerable and lengthy debate on the subject, however, it was decided by SEC officials last fall that the conference would stay with an eight-game league schedule for the 2024 season and that the annual OU-Texas rivalry game would be continued

It was reported this week by Seth Emerson of The Athletic (subscription only) that Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte, speaking at a town hall meeting last week, said that the SEC is likely to stay with an eight-game schedule again in 2025 but that would probably be the final year before going to nine games in 2025.

There is no confirmation of this from the SEC, but we do know that the debate between an eight- or nine-game permanent schedule still lingers. And there are differences in how future schedules would be structured depending on which format is ultimately decided on beyond the 2024 season. Natural rivalries, like Oklahoma-Texas, is the area that would be most impacted.

Oklahoma and Texas are scheduled to play each other in 2024 -- in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, as always -- and if Del Conte is correct, the schedule will presumably remain that way again the following year.

In the eight-game scheduling format, every team would have one permanent rivalry and rotate everyone else. The nine-game format calls for every team to have three teams it plays every year and rotate the 12 other teams. Under both formats, every team is guaranteed to play everybody else at least twice every four years.

Here's the potential issue as far as the OU-Texas rivalry is concerned. Texas AD Del Conte also remarked at his town hall event last week that the Longhorns would be playing Texas A&M every year. That rivalry is even older and longer than the Red River Rivalry between the Sooners and Longhorns, but the Longhorns and Aggies have not played each other since Texas A&M left the Big 12 in 2011.

The easy solution, of course, from an Oklahoma perspective is to go with a nine-game schedule, which would allow for more than one natural rivalry game per team as part of the three teams that would remain fixed on every team's schedule every season. The way the eight-game schedule is currently structured, if Texas were to choose Texas A&M as its permanent rivalry, that would mean Oklahoma and Texas wouldn't play each other every year.

Further fallout from the future adoption of an eight-game SEC schedule could be the contract extension the OU and Texas signed late last year agreeing to keep the Red River Rivalry game at the Cotton Bowl through the 2036 season.

There may be a lot of moving parts to all of this, but I can't fathom a scheduling solution that doesn't include the Sooners and Longhorns meeting annually a neutral field like they have every year since 1929. There is just too much tradition and history associated with that game.