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Tramel: Will OU and Texas be lame ducks long in the Big 12 before heading to SEC?

Berry Tramel
Oklahoman

Mike Gundy said some interesting things to ESPN’s Marty Smith on Thursday. Nothing more enlightening than the final quote Smith tweeted out from Gundy. 

“The goal, from what I hear, is that this league (the Big 12) stays intact to (20)’24.” 

In the wake of OU and Texas leaving for the Southeastern Conference, the Big 12 is scrambling to maximize its leverage over the Sooners and Longhorns wanting an early departure. Contractually the Big 12 owns OU’s and UT’s media rights through the 2024-25. But if the Big 12 should dissolve, the Sooners and ‘Horns would in theory be free of financial responsibilities. 

So while the eight remaining members seek a new home, preferably in a Power 5 Conference, it behooves them financially to stick together, either to retain their cut of the OU/Texas empowered television contracts, or to get a big payoff from the Red River rivals, who clearly want to expedite the process. 

If the Big 12 remnants can make OU and Texas wait out their exodus, it would cut against the grain of college football history. Conference realignment going back 30 years has always been placed on the fast track. 

The most any school has had to wait was two seasons. Most have played only one season before switching leagues. 

No party benefits from lame-duck status, unless it’s financial. 

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All four Big 12 members that left the conference in 2010-11 were playing in their new digs after just one season as a lame-duck. July 1 is the official start of a conference year; Nebraska and Colorado became full-fledged members of the Big Ten and Pac-12, respectively, 12½ months after declaring their intention to leave. 

Missouri (eight months) and Texas A&M (10 months) took even less time to wiggle free. And getting into the Big 12 was just as swift – Texas Christian became a Big 12 member nine months after receiving an invitation, leaving the Mountain West and rejecting the Big East, which it had earlier agreed to join; West Virginia took only eight months to leave the Big East.  

Maybe the Big 12 learned some lessons from those rapid negotiations. 

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In 1990, Arkansas took 23 months to get from the Southwest Conference to the SEC, playing two lame-duck seasons in the SWC.  

And more recently, Maryland (from the Atlantic Coast Conference) and Rutgers (from the Big East) took 19 months to get to the Big Ten, playing out the end of one season and then a full season as a lame duck. 

And the Big East-to-the-ACC migration ranged from 12 months (Miami and Virginia Tech) to 22 months (Pittsburgh and Syracuse), with 19 months (Boston College and Louisville) in between. 

If the Big 12 figured out a way to keep OU and Texas for four more seasons, it would be historic. But it’s quite improbable. 

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.

OU and UT have the Longhorn Network on their side. Texas is owed $150 million more, over 10 years, from ESPN for Bevo TV. The Longhorn Network has been a disaster for ESPN and hasn’t exactly led to competitive prosperity for Texas. No one will be sad to see it go. 

But the Longhorns are a business, if nothing else. So they want their money. A report out of Austin said ESPN was considering cutting its losses and just paying off UT, money which Texas then would move on to the Big 12 to pay off two years of both OU and UT buyouts. 

That might be enough to call it even and the Big 12 to say good riddance. That’s a big infusion of cash for schools that are going to need it. 

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And should any of the eight find a landing spot sometime soon, they would not want to be hindered by sticking with the Big 12 for some kind of buyout payments. It’s by far in any of the eight’s best interest to go, when given an offer. 

“I think the television, ESPN, they’re gonna have a big, big say in that,” Gundy told Smith, with some irony, since the Big 12 commissioner has called out ESPN for trying to destroy the conference in the wake of the OU and UT departures. 

ESPN, Gundy said, is the party “representing television dollars, and they make those decisions. I think at some point the leaders will get together and say, this is what we have, if this is what you will offer us. If not, it might be something else. Ultimately that’s who’s going to make the decisions in my opinion.” 

This much is true. We don’t know what will happen, other than the Sooners and Longhorns eventually landing in the SEC. 

“I think anybody that says they really know the future is maybe stepping out of line,” Gundy said. 

But if the Big 12 can make OU and Texas sweat it out in the Big 12 more than a season or two, they will have changed the narrative of conference realignment history.  

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.