Texas, Oklahoma Indicate They’ll Leave the Big 12 for the SEC
The Longhorns and the Sooners may move to the Southeastern Conference, which could soon have 16 teams. The repercussions would be felt across college sports.,
The University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas indicated to the Big 12 Conference on Monday that they intend to leave the league in the coming years.
The formal notifications, which were required under the Big 12’s bylaws, open the way for the schools to move to the Southeastern Conference, which could swell into a 16-team league and sweep up far greater power, wealth and gridiron prestige.
In a joint statement on Monday morning, Oklahoma and Texas said they would not renew an existing media rights agreement connected to the Big 12 once it expires in 2025.
“The universities intend to honor their existing grant of rights agreements,” the schools said. “However, both universities will continue to monitor the rapidly evolving collegiate athletics landscape as they consider how best to position their athletics programs for the future.”
The decisions by Oklahoma and Texas will have the greatest effects on the Big 12 and, most likely, the SEC, but their choices will drive a process known as realignment that can scramble the membership rosters of conferences from coast to coast. Although every year brings some shifts inside the sprawling N.C.A.A., which has about 1,100 member schools, transitions from one Power 5 conference to another are far less common. When they do occur, though, they often carry outsize financial and competitive consequences.
Much like coaching changes and player commitments, plans for conference switches can collapse before they are made final. But the notices to the Big 12, whose leaders met with Oklahoma and Texas officials on Sunday to try to stave off the departures, are among the strongest possible signals that the universities expect new deals to materialize imminently.
The SEC, the country’s premier college football conference, has been at the heart of what Texas on Wednesday unconvincingly played down as “rumors or speculation.” The league already boasts some of the mightiest brands in football, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana State, but drawing in Oklahoma and Texas would both expand the conference’s footprint and add two proud, tradition-bound programs.
And it would almost certainly enrich the league in dramatic ways.
In December, the SEC announced a deal with ESPN that will, according to people familiar with its terms, pay the league $300 million a year. The additions of Oklahoma and Texas would give the conference new leverage for a rights agreement whose value could skyrocket with the arrival of two powerhouse brands.
Indeed, one of the thorniest subjects surrounding the potential defections of Oklahoma and Texas has been how much the universities might pay to the Big 12 and its schools in a buyout agreement. Like all other Big 12 schools, Texas and Oklahoma agreed to give the conference control of their most lucrative television rights, including football and most men’s and women’s basketball games, which the conference then sold to ESPN and Fox in a $2.6 billion deal that goes through the 2024-25 school year.
A college sports executive with knowledge of the deliberations said that Oklahoma and Texas had contacted the SEC months ago, but that talks between the league and the schools had accelerated more recently. The SEC’s rules require that 11 of its 14 universities vote in support of a school that applies for membership.
So far, just one school — Texas A&M — has voiced public opposition.
“We want to be the only SEC program in the state of Texas,” Ross Bjork, the school’s athletic director, told reporters last week. He said the university should “have our own stand-alone identity in our own conference.”
But their fury is poised to go only so far. Over the weekend, the university’s president, M. Katherine Banks, said Texas A&M looked forward to “continued success in our SEC partnership for many years to come.”
The Big 12’s future is less clear, and the planned exits of Oklahoma and Texas, among the league’s founding members about 27 years ago, will be a potentially crippling blow. Conference and university leaders have been in closed-door discussions in recent days about the way forward for the remnants of the Big 12, and officials from other leagues are watching closely to see whether they might want to expand their own ranks.
Kevin Warren, the Big Ten commissioner, said on Thursday that he and others were “constantly evaluating what’s in the best interests of the conference.” George Kliavkoff, the new Pac-12 commissioner, told The Mercury News that he was not actively recruiting any schools to join the conference, but that “we’d be foolish not to listen if schools call us.”