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Sooners' move to SEC approved by OU Board of Regents. Here's what comes next.

Ryan Aber
Oklahoman

OU's move to the SEC is official.

That came with the OU Board of Regents unanimously approving Sooners’ move to the Southeastern Conference on Friday during a special meeting at the OU Health Science Center.

"We believe that joining the SEC will sustain our national caliber and traditions,” OU President Joe Harroz said in addressing the regents prior to the vote. “It will strengthen our university as a whole and our state.”

Texas’ regents approved the Longhorns’ move as well in a separate meeting which wrapped up a little before OU’s regents returned from executive session and voted.

“While we remain archrivals — fierce rivals — on the field of any competition, we know that we share some characteristics and goals (and) that alignment serves us both very, very well,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said of making the move with Texas.

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Plenty of questions surrounding the move remain—when it officially happens, how much if anything OU and Texas will pay the Big 12 to make the move if they go earlier than the summer of 2025, what the SEC’s divisional structure will be and the fate of the College Football Playoff expansion proposal.

The schools’ application — and the SEC’s Thursday invitation to the schools — list the move as happening in the summer of 2025, but the move could happen much quicker.

The timing will depend on a couple factors — the solidarity of the eight remaining Big 12 schools and progress with any buyout negotiations between OU and Texas and the conference.

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Each school could owe the Big 12 in the neighborhood of $80 million to leave early.

There’s potential for Texas to help with that burden, though.

ESPN owes approximately $160 million to Texas for the decade remaining on the 20-year contract that created the Longhorn Network.

Horns247.com reported earlier this week that Texas could use the remaining money on that deal to pay for the exit fee for both programs.

If more schools leave the league in the near-term, though, the remaining schools could be more motivated to negotiate a reduced buyout with OU and Texas to avoid a collapse of the league before buyout payments. 

The schools figure to make up any buyout amount fairly quickly, though, with SEC distribution expected to be around $60 million annually with a 16-team league.

The Big 12 distributed just less than $35 million per school last year, more than $10 million less than the SEC’s payout.

Oklahoma's application — and the SEC’s invitation to OU and Texas on Thursday — list the move as happening in the summer of 2025, but the move could happen much quicker.

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The SEC’s television deal with CBS and ESPN goes through the 2023 football season, with ESPN taking over beginning in 2024 after signing a $3 billion deal last year for exclusive broadcast rights for all SEC athletics.

"It became clear that the Big 12 was last in the line for media negotiations," Harroz said. "It translates to disadvantages in recruiting of top talent, disadvantages for our student-athletes and a detriment to the fan experience."

With 16 teams, the SEC’s divisional structure will need to change significantly for OU and Texas to be in the same division.

If the league sticks with two divisions, moving Alabama and Auburn to the East and Missouri to the West would make the most sense geographically.

That would put the Sooners and Longhorns in a division with Arkansas, LSU, Missouri, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M.

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The league could go to four pods of four teams each to facilitate scheduling, with OU and Texas being paired with Texas A&M with either Arkansas or Missouri.

The College Football Playoff Board of Managers subcommittee — a four-person group that included both SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby — released a proposal earlier in the summer to expand the playoff from its current four-team model to 12 teams.

Bowlsby spoke at Big 12 Media Days earlier in July as if the expansion was a foregone conclusion. But the SEC’s expansion — and the realignment fallout which will continue to ripple through the country in the coming weeks and months, potentially longer — could lead to a reevaluation of expansion plans.

In April, CFP executive director Bill Hancock said expansion wouldn’t happen until at least 2023.