Texas sends critical letter to Big 12 officials, signaling the Longhorns intend to leave for SEC
After days of speculation and bluster, the University of Texas has indeed taken the first step toward leaving the Big 12 and joining the Southeastern Conference.
Texas officials formally notified the Big 12 Conference on Monday that the school does not wish to extend its grant of television rights beyond the 2024-25 athletic year, the school said in a joint statement with the University of Oklahoma.
Texas and OU’s statement did not specifically mention the SEC; however, it’s technically the first step in the process of leaving the Big 12.
“Providing notice to the Big 12 at this point is important in advance of the expiration of the conference’s current media rights agreement,” UT said in a statement. “The universities intend to honor their existing grant of rights agreements. 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.”
Next, Texas officials would need to formally ask the SEC to join its 14-member league. Any new member must get 11 schools to vote yes; four no votes would deny expansion. Sports Illustrated reported that SEC presidents are scheduled to meet Thursday.
A high-ranking Texas source told the American-Statesman on Monday, “A lot going to happen THIS week.”
Texas and OU are not expected to have any problems getting enough votes to join the SEC. It’s possible the SEC will vote on expansion this week, a high-ranking UT source told the American-Statesman. However, it’s still unclear how fast a 16-team SEC could begin play.
“Although our eight members are disappointed with the decisions of these two institutions, we recognize that intercollegiate athletics is experiencing rapid change and will most likely look much different in 2025 than it does currently,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement.
“Like many others, we will use the next four years to fully assess what the landscape will look like in 2025 and beyond,” he added.
Bowlsby’s problem is that he doesn’t have four years. The Big 12 could look radically different or even be gone long before then.
The current Big 12 television contract runs through the 2024-25 athletic year. Texas has “every intention” of honoring its contractual obligation, a Big 12 source familiar with UT’s thinking told the Statesman. It’s possible the Big 12 will dissolve more quickly, depending on what happens with the remaining eight schools.
Texas can’t go scorched earth primarily because in some weird way it still needs Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU to help fill out athletic schedules in the coming years in smaller sports.
Oklahoma State President Kayse Shrum issued a strong statement midday Monday saying the Texas and OU letter was a “clear breach” of Big 12 bylaws.
“It is difficult to understand how an Oklahoma institution of higher education would follow the University of Texas to the detriment of the State of Oklahoma,” Shrum tweeted. “Nevertheless we are turning our eyes to the future and looking at what is best for Oklahoma State University.”
“We remain confident @okstate is in the strongest position we have ever been in, and I am excited about the future of Oklahoma State University, our land-grant mission, world-class faculty and top-notch athletic programs,” he added.
Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec was more genteel in his statement.
“As a founding and trusted member of the Big 12 Conference, we are disappointed in today’s announcement that two members have elected not to renew their media rights,” Schovanec tweeted. He touted Tech’s overall strength as a research institution and how “the Double T brand has never been more powerful and more influential.”
The speed with which this all happens is somewhat dependent on the remaining eight Big 12 schools. Do they hold Texas' and OU’s feet to the contractual fire? Or do they strike a new TV deal with different teams, thereby allowing for a new alignment before the start of the 2023 season?
CBS Sports reported that television executives believe the Big 12 lost “50% to 75% of its value” with Texas and OU walking out the door. ESPN and Fox Sports have contractual language that allows for a renegotiation if league members leave.
Ten years ago, when the realignment frenzy hit, then-Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe was forced to move in hours. Bowlsby could take months, maybe even a few years, to formalize things if he wants.
“Last time, we were talking about $9 (million) to $10 million a year in TV money,” one industry source familiar with Bowlsby’s thinking told the Statesman. “Now we’re talking about $40 (million) to $50 million a year with escalators, the 12-team College Football Playoff and everything else.”
The college football world is now watching to see what schools such as Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas and West Virginia decide.
The Big 12 could raid the Pac-12, bringing over Arizona and Arizona State, Utah and Colorado, the industry source said. Merging with the American Athletic Conference, a league with lesser stature, is also a possibility, according to The Athletic. But that would be a major drop in perceived status compared with the current Big 12, which is one of the Power Five leagues.
Texas A&M officials are not going to stand in Texas' and OU’s way, apparently. The Aggies seemed aghast over the weekend about the possibility of expansion. A&M President Katherine Banks issued a statement Saturday that started by saying, “The last few days have been challenging in many ways.
“Since 2011, we have been a proud member of the best intercollegiate athletic conference in history and we look forward to continued success in our SEC partnership for many years to come,” Banks said.
The A&M System Board of Regents also called a special meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday to discuss the situation. No action was taken after about 90 minutes in executive session. The A&M regents are now scheduled to meet again in person at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The Statesman reported last week that this grant of rights letter was coming Monday from UT. Bowlsby tried to stem the tide with a hastily arranged virtual meeting Sunday with UT President Jay Harzell and OU’s Joe Harroz. It had all the hallmarks of a last-gasp attempt at marriage counseling.
In a statement, the Big 12 described the meeting as “cordial” as they discussed “proposals that would strengthen the Conference and be mutually beneficial to OU and UT” as well as the league.
“I expect that we will continue our conversations in the days ahead and we look forward to discussing thoughts, ideas and concepts that may be of shared interest and impact,” Bowlsby said in a statement Sunday.
Bowlsby has declined to comment when asked more questions by the Statesman.
Texas wants to be a good partner with the Big 12 until the move to the SEC is complete, one high-ranking UT source told the Statesman.
As of now, the Longhorns and Sooners are members of the Big 12 through at least the 2024-25 athletic year. The Big 12 asked its members to sign a five-year extension, sources have told the Statesman, but Texas balked at that idea and began to examine all options, including changing conferences.
The first major domino has fallen with the grant of rights letter. More are likely to fall in the days and weeks ahead. The high-ranking UT source said it’s hoped that none of this steals attention from the 2021 football season.
Texas coach Steve Sarkisian and his Longhorns are scheduled to hold their first workout Aug. 6.