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Now with the stage set, league presidents expected to vote Texas, Oklahoma into SEC

Texas, Oklahoma regents have scheduled Friday meetings, presumably to formally approve the SEC initiations

Southeastern Conference presidents are expected to meet Thursday and formally vote to accept the University of Texas and University of Oklahoma as new conference members, two high-ranking university sources told the American-Statesman.

Texas and Oklahoma need at least 11 yes votes from the current 14 SEC schools. Four no votes would kill expansion. 

“I feel like we have the votes,” a high-ranking Texas source told the Statesman on Wednesday. “We’ll know when they vote.”

Another high-ranking Texas A&M source said: “I’ve heard nothing to indicate this will go sideways.”

The next domino:Texas, Oklahoma formally ask to join the Southeastern Conference in 2025

SEC presidents and athletic directors were briefed Tuesday on the financial parameters of a new 16-team conference, the A&M source said. Each university president must now decide how they intend to vote. Some national media outlets have reported it could either be 14-0 in favor or 13-1 depending on A&M’s decision.

The Southeastern Conference logo welcomed those in attendance at SEC media days at the Hyatt Regency in Hoover, Ala., last week. Reports broke late last week that both Texas and Oklahoma want to leave the Big 12 and join the SEC. SEC presidents reportedly will vote on the proposal Thursday.

The UT System Board of Regents has scheduled a meeting for 9 a.m. Friday, presumably to formally accept the SEC’s invitation. OU regents have also scheduled a similar Friday meeting in Norman, Okla.

By this point, it should be clear how well this was all scripted from the beginning. Texas and OU released a joint statement on Monday informing the Big 12 Conference they did not want to extend their grant of television rights beyond 2025.

More:Texas sends critical letter to Big 12 officials, signaling the Longhorns intend to leave for SEC

Then on Tuesday, the Longhorns and Sooners issued another joint statement saying they were formally asking to join the SEC. 

“We believe that there would be mutual benefit to the Universities on the one hand, and the SEC on the other hand, for the Universities to become members of the SEC,” the Texas and Oklahoma presidents wrote in their letter to SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey.

Southeast Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey could see his league, which is already considered the preeminent conference in college football, grow even stronger with the additions of the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners.

If all goes according to plan, Texas, OU and the SEC will have statements and press conferences on Friday, the two university sources said.

Texas and OU requested to join the league in 2025, however few seem to believe the two schools will have to wait that long. The schools are contractually obligated to the Big 12 until the 2024-25 athletic year and would face as much as a $160 million buyout if they left early.

A high-ranking Texas source told the Statesman that the school has “every intention” of honoring its current commitment. “We’re trying to do this in a classy way,” another UT source said.

If the remaining eight Big 12 schools find new schools to add, a different conference or a unique TV arrangement, Texas and OU could start playing in the SEC much sooner. The hope is that comes in time for the 2022 or 2023 football seasons, Texas sources said.

If the Big 12 implodes, then Texas and OU may wind up owing little or nothing.

Moving to the SEC would create a massive financial windfall for all 16 teams that is simply too big to ignore. CBS Sports estimated a new super conference could be worth as much as $60 million annually to each school, provided Texas and OU were playing SEC football. 

USA Today did the math and figured the league could bring in $1.3 billion annually — an eye-popping revenue total that equals what the NCAA brings in annually. 

New Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, right, was Alabama's offensive coordinator during the 2020 football season when the Crimson Tide won the national championship under head coach Nick Saban, left. If the Longhorns join the SEC, the two coaches would be pitted against each other in the same league.

As far as Texas goes, the biggest questions involve Longhorn Network and its annual payout of $15 million.

To join the SEC, all schools turn over all television rights to the conference office, hence the creation of the SEC Network. In the Big 12, schools are allowed to shop their third-tier television rights. Initially, more than a decade ago, ESPN approached Texas and A&M about forming a Lone Star state network. A&M refused, and the Longhorn Network was created instead.

Sources said there’s a belief that LHN would either be wound down or be transformed into an arm of SEC Network, should Texas be allowed into the SEC.

Yahoo Sports reported Wednesday the Big 12 sent a cease-and-desist letter to ESPN demanding the network “not communicate with the Big 12 Conference's existing members” about realignment.

Schools and conferences are initiating these moves and making decisions about realignment based on what’s best for them, an ESPN executive source told the Statesman on Wednesday.

Two sources familiar with Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby’s thinking said he was totally blindsided by news that Texas and OU were planning to leave. He has worked side by side with Sankey, his SEC counterpart, for more than a year putting together plans for a 12-team expanded College Football Playoff. Then, he learned that Sankey had been in talks with two of his member schools.

“The events of recent days have verified that the two schools have been contemplating and planning for the transition for months,” Bowlsby said in a statement Tuesday.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, shown walking onto the stage at Big 12 media days in Arlington two weeks ago, reportedly was surprised by Texas' and Oklahoma's intent on leaving the league. “The events of recent days have verified that the two schools have been contemplating and planning for the transition for months,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Texas and Oklahoma were original members of the Big 12 when the league was formed prior to the 1996 football season. They stayed together through massive upheaval and conference realignment in 2010 and 2011 as Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri and A&M all ultimately left for different leagues.

Texas and OU are the Big 12’s two financial bell cows. CBS Sports estimated that the Big 12 television contract, initially a 13-year agreement, would lose “50% to 75%” of its value without the Longhorns and Sooners.

If there was a flash point, it came in May. Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that TV executives weren’t interested in extending the Big 12’s deal.

“Our partners, ESPN and FOX, are not interested in acting preemptively with regard to our contract,” Schovanec said. “They recognize the importance of our partnership, but there's just too much uncertainty, and they do have four years to go.”

A high-ranking Texas source said the Big 12 asked its members to sign a five-year extension of the grant of rights. Texas refused and thus began looking at other options. Obviously, Oklahoma did, too.

Come Thursday, the Longhorns and Sooners may have a new conference — one with serious long-term stability and boatloads of cash — to call home.

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.