Texas, Oklahoma leaving Big 12 Conference as college football shake-up begins
Oklahoma and Texas have informed the Big 12 of their intent to withdraw from the conference, the two schools announced Monday, in a move that paves the way for the powerhouse programs to become the newest members of the SEC.
"The University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas at Austin notified the Big 12 Athletic Conference today that they will not be renewing their grants of media rights following expiration in 2025," the two schools said in a joint statement.
"Providing notice to the Big 12 at this point is important in advance of the expiration of the conference's current media rights agreement. The universities intend to honor their existing grants of rights agreements. However, both universities will continue to monitor the rapidly evolving collegiate athletics landscape as they consider how to best position their athletics programs to the future."
The schools did not specify which conference they intend to join, but all signs point to the Southeastern Conference.
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.
Texas and OU are not expected to have any problems getting enough votes to join the conferences. It’s possible the SEC will vote on expansion this week, a high-ranking Texas 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.
The timing and financial fallout of the departure for the SEC remain to be determined. Overall, however, the decision made by Oklahoma and Texas to leave the Big 12 upends the Football Bowl Subdivision and carries the potential to dramatically alter the landscape of college sports.
The Sooners and Longhorns are two of college football's biggest brands and historic powers, with a combined 82 conference championships and 11 claimed national championships. The two universities are also financial behemoths: Texas had nearly $224 million in operating revenue during the 2018-19 fiscal year, the most of any school in the NCAA, while Oklahoma brought in $163 million, good for eighth.
Both schools have been members of the Big 12 since the league's inaugural season in 1996. The addition of the Sooners and Longhorns would come less than a decade after the SEC added two former Big 12 members in Missouri and Texas A&M.
With 16 members, the SEC would be the largest conference in the FBS. This expansion would come amid seismic changes to the amateur model, notably in legislation related to name, image and likeness, and at a time when most of the five major conferences have recently negotiated or are currently negotiating massive television-rights deals totaling in the billions of dollars — with the latter once again the primary driver of realignment.
SEC expansion would promise to set off another round of changes to the current conference structure that may result in the construction of four juggernaut leagues, each with 16 or more teams, further relegating the rest of the FBS into second-tier status. This expansion would come at the cost of the Big 12, which without its two standard-bearer programs will no longer be seen as equal to the remaining Power Five conferences.
Bringing on the Sooners and Longhorns would broaden the SEC's map and entrenches the league even deeper into the fertile recruiting bed of Texas, which had already been opened with the addition of Texas A&M. But the addition raises immediate financial concerns and long-term questions about balance and parity at the highest level of the sport.
From a financial perspective, OU and Texas could owe the Big 12 upward of $80 million as a departure fee, per the league's grant of rights deal. The 16-team SEC would also need to renegotiate its recently signed TV deal with ESPN, which is set to go into effect in 2024 and pay roughly $300 million annually over the course of the 10-year agreement.
The two programs would immediately join the upper echelon of the conference in reputation if not on-field performance — Texas has been one of college football's greatest underachievers for the past decade — and create a larger divide between the SEC's top third and those programs struggling to gain a foothold, including South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and the two Mississippi schools.
And the long-term fallout may trickle throughout the current 130-team FBS in the formation of super conferences. The establishment of such leagues would come at the cost of existing conferences such as the Big 12, American and Mountain West, depleting those leagues or, in a worst-case scenario, leading to their outright dissolution.
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg