The college football conference map has been drawn and redrawn, torn down and rebuilt so many times in the past that it was starting to feel routine. The Big 12 specifically has seen a carousel of teams coming and going that nowadays, the conference itself can’t remember how many teams are involved?
Let’s see. There’s Kansas, K-State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, TCU, Iowa State, Texas, Texas Tech, and West Virginia. That’s ten schools, not twelve.
That joke has been told a million times before, but per a report from the Houston Chronicle, we could see even more schools leave the Big 12 very soon.
Texas and Oklahoma are both looking to leave the conference in favor of the SEC. This wouldn’t be the first time famed Big 12 schools left the conference for the SEC. As recently as 2011, Missouri and Texas A&M both left the Big 12 after short stints of just 15 years in favor of getting smacked in the mouth by Alabama, LSU, Georgia, and Auburn football every year. There were other legitimate reasons such as Texas A&M wanting to have its own identity, or Missouri being fed up with the mismanagement of the Big 12, but those universities’ decisions to leave would pale in comparison to the departures of Texas and Oklahoma.
The Longhorns and Sooners are two of the most iconic college football programs of all-time. Texas is the only school to have its own broadcast network. Oklahoma is “Quarterback U”. Those two schools alone account for millions of dollars in revenue for the Big 12 every year. Without them, who’s the Big 12 going to rely on? Baylor and Kansas are probably next up, but those school’s brands are not nearly as iconic as Texas or Oklahoma.
There are some issues that Texas might face, such as their deal with the Longhorn Network. The Longhorn Network earns the University of Texas approximately $15 million annually, but that deal might have to be severed in order for Texas to join the SEC. The SEC has its own network, and based on how powerful the SEC is in the world of college football, they might not take too kindly to having a competitor within their own conference. Texas had become so used to being able to throw its brand around willy-nilly within the Big 12 that the SEC could be a devastating reminder to the Longhorns that they are not the center of the universe. They would be the new kids on the block. They would need to earn the right to claim they are the best, and based on how Texas has finished in the Big 12 conference recently, they won’t earn that right very quickly.
Obviously, the Big 12 would be the biggest loser in this deal. Aside from losing two of its biggest moneymakers, the Big 12 would be forced to turn to smaller conferences to fill their empty slots. Early favorites to fill the Texas and Oklahoma voids include Cincinnati, Houston, UCF, and Memphis. None of those schools have had the success that Oklahoma football has had in recent years. Should UT and OU decide to abandon the Big 12, the conference would most likely drop in most people’s minds from the third-best conference in college football (behind the SEC and ACC) to the bottom — even worse than the Pac-12 *GASP*. The reputation of the conference would take an absolute nosedive, so maintaining two of their most historically celebrated programs should be the top priority.
However, the SEC offers several financial advantages that the Big 12 just can’t provide for schools like Texas and Oklahoma. The SEC has drastically risen in popularity over the course of the 2010s. The Southeastern Conference’s last expansion — involving Texas A&M and Missouri — netted huge returns for the SEC. The year before the expansion, the SEC was able to distribute $248.1 million among its constituents (approximately $19.5 million per school). In 2016, that number had increased to $565.9 million ($40.4 million per school). The money to be made by joining the SEC is enormous. In 2016, Texas A&M’s athletic department generated $194.4 million, a 122 percent increase from the school’s final year in the Big 12.
This move wouldn’t only affect the Big 12 negatively though. If in fact several AAC schools like the ones I just mentioned jump ship to join a Power 5 conference, the AAC would likely lose its best bids to get into the college football playoff. Both Cincinnati and UCF have recently had undefeated regular seasons. While neither school was invited to the College Football Playoff, the CFP could be undergoing an expansion rather soon, and surely teams like Cincinnati and UCF would have earned bids to the tournament had the CFP included eight teams during their undefeated years. The American Athletic Conference was excited to finally get an opportunity to be represented on college football’s biggest stage, but watching UCF, Cincinnati, and potentially others leave for greener pastures would be a death blow to the conference’s playoff chances.
The fans would love to see Texas and Oklahoma move to the SEC. Oklahoma because it would give one of the most consistently solid schools in college football more opportunities to play against top competition, and Texas because they need to be humbled after years of being the top dog (brand-wise) in the Big 12. A move of this caliber would send shockwaves down the college football landscape that would be felt for years. Does the SEC need 16 teams? No, but I’m sure they’d be more than happy to add two of college football’s most historic programs into the fold. According to the initial report, we could see the SEC announce the additions of both schools “within a few weeks.” However, there are still several hoops that all parties involved must jump through to make it happen. For example, the Big 12 still holds the Texas media rights through 2025, and although the school has stated they will not be extending the grant of rights, the Big 12 could theoretically force Texas to remain in the conference until the deal is finished. Expect a big legal fight to ensue in the Big 12. What will be the result? I couldn’t tell you, but I do know that it’s one hell of a storyline to watch out for as we approach college football season.