Oklahoma and Texas took the first formal step Monday toward moving to the Southeastern Conference and leaving the Big 12 behind.
The only schools to win college football national championships during the Big 12’s 27-year history notified the conference they would not be renewing an agreement that binds its members through 2025.
In a joint statement, the schools made no mention of the SEC and said “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 in the future,” the schools said.
Texas and Oklahoma have been in discussions with the SEC about joining the league, though neither school nor the powerhouse conference has acknowledged that publicly.
The “grant of rights” gives the conference control of the school’s media rights and runs concurrent with the Big 12’s television contracts with ESPN and Fox, which expire in 2025.
“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 remaining eight Big 12 schools – Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech and West Virginia — had been hoping to persuade the conference’s flagship schools to stay put.
Bowlsby, who was part of a video conference this weekend with the university presidents of Oklahoma and Texas, acknowledged the future of the league will not include the Longhorns and Sooners.
“Like many others, we will use the next four years to fully assess what the landscape will look like in 2025 and beyond,” he said. “The remaining eight institutions will work together in a collaborative manner to thoughtfully and strategically position the Big 12 Conference for continued success, both athletically and academically, long into the future.”
Oklahoma State President Kayse Shrum wasn’t as diplomatic as Bowlsby in a series of tweets about the pending departures. She said actions of Texas and Oklahoma come after months of planning with the SEC.
“We believe these conversations, which developed over a long period of time, are in clear breach of the bylaws of the Big 12 Conference and broke a bond of trust between our universities in existence for decades,” Shrum said, and then took aim at Oklahoma State’s Bedlam rivals.
“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,” she added.
The next step for Oklahoma and Texas would be applying for SEC membership in a conference that has produced 12 national champions in football since 2003 and is positioned to distribute as much as $70 million annually to its members in the coming years.
Big 12 distributed $345 million to its 10 members this year ($34.5 million apiece), down from the previous year because of the pandemic. Most of that revenue comes from the Big 12’s TV deals.
The SEC announced an average payout to each of its members of $44.6 million in January. The conference signed a new deal with ESPN last year worth $300 million annually that would add another $20 million per year to that figure when it goes into effect in 2024.
But before Texas and Oklahoma can relocate, they’ll need to extricate themselves from the Big 12’s grant of rights or wait until it expires following the 2024-25 school year.
Joining another conference with the grant of rights still in effect is a nonstarter. Texas and Oklahoma would bring no media rights value to their new conference and it would cost the schools tens of millions of dollars per year.
Without Texas and Oklahoma, the Big 12 is in danger of falling apart. Even if it were to stay together by adding other schools, the value of the league would likely be severely diminished when it goes looking for its next television contract.
Five years ago, the Big 12 went through the process – fairly publicly – of evaluating other schools as candidates for a possible expansion of the conference.
The Big 12 received plenty of interest from schools throughout FBS. If the eight remaining Big 12 schools can stick together, they would likely go back to many of the same candidates – many of which compete in the American Athletic Conference (Cincinnati, UCF, Houston, SMU, Memphis, USF) and Mountain West, home to Boise State.
Those conferences are not planning to sit back and wait to be poached.
Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement the conference has already begun gathering information and its athletic directors and university presidents and chancellors had met Monday to discuss next steps.
“Our intent is to actively appraise various scenarios, identify potential opportunities and take actions which can positively impact the trajectory of the conference and our member institutions,” Thompson said.