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UT regents make it official: Longhorns are bound for the SEC

Rick Cantu
Austin American-Statesman
The Southeastern Conference will grow to 16 schools once Texas and Oklahoma join the league, which will happen in 2025 or perhaps sooner. UT regents on Friday formally accepted the SEC's invitation, which was approved by a 14-0 vote Thursday by that league's various school presidents.

The University of Texas took an aggressive step to solidify its future in collegiate athletics Friday morning by accepting an invitation to become a member of the Southeastern Conference.

University President Jay Hartzell made the announcement during a UT System Board of Regents meeting. He described the move from the Big 12 to the SEC as a "monumental decision" for Texas, saying it's in the university's best interest to join a conference with a tradition of athletic excellence.

"Collegiate athletics is changing rapidly, whether anyone wants it to or not," Hartzell said during a virtual meeting that lasted only 12 minutes.

"This is evident by a critical Supreme Court decision and landmark legislation from several states across the country," he continued. "Issues such as name, image and likeness, declining cable television subscriptions, College Football Playoff expansion, the transfer portal, and the impact of the global pandemic on sports, just to name a few, have proved that the transformation in collegiate athletics is happening around us."

More: Bohls: Agendas abound all around in Texas' move to SEC

Hartzell's comments came one day after SEC presidents voted 14-0 to formally invite UT and the University of Oklahoma to become the 15th and 16th members of the conference. On Friday, Hartzell thanked new Texas A&M President Katherine Banks for her support.

Hartzell also gave special credit to Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte for his leadership.

"Today is truly a great day for the University of Texas," Del Conte said. "I'm excited for our student-athletes, I'm excited for Longhorn Nation, but we have a lot of work to do. I will reiterate that we will be in the Big 12 for the foreseeable future — till 2025 is my intention. ... We have a lot of work to do in the next couple years to put ourselves in the very best position to compete for championship."

Also on Friday, the Oklahoma Board of Regents elected to join the SEC's invitation.

“In the 130-year history of the University of Oklahoma athletics, this is a significant decision," OU President Joseph Harroz Jr told the Daily Oklahoman. "We believe that joining the SEC will sustain our national caliber and traditions. It will strengthen our university as a whole and our state.”

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement Friday that adding the Longhorns and Sooners will only add to the league's national prominence.

"Their additions will further enhance the already rich academic, athletic and cultural legacies that have been cultivated throughout the years by our existing 14 members," Sankey said. He also pointed out Texas A&M's yes vote.

“It is the unity and collaboration of our institutions that makes the SEC special, and (the) decision of the Texas A&M Board of Regents to approve a vote supportive of Conference membership for their long-time in-state rival is an example of the overall culture of this Conference,” he said.

For now, the Big 12 television deal runs through the 2024-25 athletic year. It remains to be seen whether Texas and OU break away from the conference sooner.

Earlier this week, Texas and OU asked to join the SEC in 2025, although both have indicated they would prefer to start earlier. The SEC announced that the two schools were invited to join the league on July 1, 2025, with competition to begin in the 2025-26 athletic year.

"While our university has enjoyed over 25 years in the Big 12 Conference, we recognize that we must be willing to make changes with our eyes on the future," Hartzell said. "In a world of uncertainty and change, it is incumbent on us as leaders to protect our athletic program and university. In order to do so, we looked at conferences across the country and concluded that the SEC is the best bet for our future.

"The reasons are many," Hartzell continued. "The stability and strength of the league and its leadership. The level of visibility for our student-athletes. Some of the toughest athletic competition and exciting stadiums that are similar in capacity and attendance to ours. It should also be noted that this move allows us to protect and rekindle some key rivalries, including a chance to regularly compete with the University of Oklahoma, the University of Arkansas and Texas A&M University."

Some SEC schools came out with their own statements of support Friday:

"For the University of Arkansas, old conference and regional rivalries will be renewed, linking our future with our storied past," Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek said, pointing out that there are more than 25,000 Razorbacks graduates living in the states of Texas and Oklahoma. 

Said Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart, in a statement he posted on Twitter: "The Sooners and Longhorns will add to the vibrant culture and deep tradition of the SEC. We look forward to competing with them as we continue to build an elite program that excels academically and competes for conference and NCAA championships."