Expansion is officially coming to the SEC.
The SEC’s 14 school presidents and chancellors voted unanimously Thursday to extend a membership invitation to Texas and Oklahoma. The Longhorns and Sooners will officially join the conference on July 1, 2025 and will begin competing in the 2025-2026 academic year.
“Today’s unanimous vote is both a testament to the SEC’s longstanding spirit of unity and mutual cooperation, as well as a recognition of the outstanding legacies of academic and athletic excellence established by the Universities of Oklahoma and Texas,” Commissioner Greg Sankey said. “I greatly appreciate the collective efforts of our Presidents and Chancellors in considering and acting upon each school’s membership interest.”
Whether or not Texas and Oklahoma join sooner than July 1, 2025 remains to be seen. Complicated doesn’t even begin to describe what the two universities will need to do if they want to ditch the Big 12 early. Among other things there are massive buyouts (at least $75 million according to ESPN’s Heather Dinich) that Texas and Oklahoma would have to pay if they were to leave early.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has—understandably— not taken kindly to the past two weeks. Bowlsby accused ESPN of purposefully encouraging other conferences, like the AAC, to try and poach the other members of the Big 12 and sent a cease and desist letter to the network on Wednesday. As an aside, please note Bowlsby’s truly absurd signature.
.@SINow has obtained the cease and desist letter that the Big 12 sent to ESPN.— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) July 28, 2021
In it, commissioner Bob Bowlsby says that ESPN has reached out to at least one of the eight remaining Big 12 members in an attempt to convince the school to leave in wake of the Texas and OU exit. pic.twitter.com/j50gEBPWBY
“What pushed me over the top was a couple of days ago when it became known to me that ESPN had been working with one or more other conferences and even providing incentives for them to destabilize the Big 12 and approach our members about moving away and providing inducements for the conference to do that,” Bowlsby said in a seperate phone interview with Yahoo’s Pete Thamel. “That’s tortious interference with our business. It’s not right.”
There’s also the fact that it’ll be extremely awkward for Oklahoma and Texas to stay in the Big 12 these next four years, especially as it pertains to the Sooners on the football field. Oklahoma has dominated the conference in football, winning the Big 12 championship the past six years and are heavy favorites to make it seven straight this year. While it would admittedly be hilarious to keep having Bowlsby hand them the Big 12 Championship trophy between now and the 2024 football season, it’s probably in everyone’s best interest to speed the exiting process up a bit.
And what about on the basketball court with the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge? This year Oklahoma is scheduled to host Auburn, while Tennessee will travel to Austin. Does the SEC and Big 12 really want four more years where Texas and Oklahoma play in a weird annual non-conference but also conference game? I’m of the opinion this move needs to go into effect for the 2022 academic year for everyone’s sake.
As for how Texas and Oklahoma fit into the SEC that remains to be seen. It’s too early to say if the league will expand to be two eight-team divisions or if the SEC will adopt the popular four-team pod idea that was floated out by the SEC Network among others.
SEC Network, the league’s own TV channel, has some ideas. pic.twitter.com/MSnth9IYMM— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) July 22, 2021
The landscape of college athletics has changed radically this summer. With NIL laws gone into effect across multiple states and Texas and Oklahoma joining the first super conference, it’s safe to say we have entered an entirely new world of college sports.