Georgia has been at forefront of never-ending SEC change

ATHENS -- Former Georgia football coach and athletic director Vince Dooley proudly proclaims that he has been around for every one of the SEC’s incarnations. That includes the first one.

“Actually, I was born three months before they had that meeting in December of ‘32 in which they first formed the SEC,” said Dooley, speaking by phone from his home 1.5 miles from UGA’s football complex. “So, you see, I’ve been there for all of it.”

He’s right. Dooley, who will turn 89 years old the day the Bulldogs open the season against Clemson in Charlotte (Sept. 4), was alive when the original 13-member SEC was founded during a two-day meeting in Knoxville, Tenn. And he’s been around for six incarnations since then.

The latest embodiment took form late Thursday afternoon when the 14 SEC presidents and chancellors voted to accept the petitions of Oklahoma and Texas to be invited into the league. On Friday morning, the Texas and Oklahoma boards of regents officially accepted those invitations, leading the SEC to announce that membership will begin July 1, 2025.

“The Presidents and Chancellors of the Southeastern Conference are pleased to welcome the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas,” UGA President Jere Morehead, who also serves as president of the SEC, said in a statement released by conference office Friday. “Both universities are prestigious academic institutions with strong athletics programs similar in tradition, culture and success to our current member universities. We look forward to a productive and successful future together beginning in 2025.”

This latest development is particularly seismic and is expected to change the entire landscape of college football and athletics as we’ve always known it. The move comes just seven months after the SEC negotiated a 10-year, $3 billion television deal with Disney and ESPN. That agreement is expected to be further enhanced with the addition of two of college athletics’ top revenue-producing programs.

As it stands now, Oklahoma and Texas will not be able to compete as SEC teams until the fall of 2025 because of its obligation to the Big 12′s TV agreement. The schools could attempt to negotiate a buyout, which collectively could exceed $150 million.

A lot of people outside of the SEC are not very happy about these developments, the Big 12 in particular. Already struggling as a 10-team league, that conference is down to eight members, none of which have near the clout of the two programs exiting.

Meanwhile, the other three of what was long considered the Power 5 conferences are left to contemplate their own futures. Of particular concern is the seemingly imminent plan to expand the College Football Playoff to a 12-team field. That was set to happen after the current TV contract expires following the 2025 season and was thought possible to implement as early as 2023.

But discord within the major college ranks appears to have put that plan in jeopardy. There is a lot of mistrust among the other power conferences’ leadership after being left out the SEC’s expansion discussions. There is growing sentiment that a 12-team playoff that would include six at-large bids along with six automatic bids for conference champions would over-represent a powerful 16-team SEC.

“It’s certainly going to be readdressed,” new Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff told Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports. “Remember, that was a two-year process done by four people. The proposal is good, but it’s not done.”

Everything else certainly is happening fast. The concept of another SEC expansion surfaced only nine days ago with a report by the Houston Chronicle during the middle of SEC Football Media Days. It immediately caught Dooley’s attention.

“I’d have to say I was surprised,” Dooley said. “I wasn’t sure if it was true, at first, but that writer had the inside scoop and knew what he was talking about. But after that news came out, it was no longer a press conference kicking off the season. It became an expansion discussion, and it’s been that way ever since.”

This expansion is decidedly more acrimonious than most of the previous ones with which Dooley was intimately involved. He said he vividly recalls being in attendance at the meeting where Georgia Tech “seceded from the SEC” in June 1964 and also two years later when Tulane did the same.

As Georgia’s athletic director in 1990, Dooley was actively involved with the decisions that led to Arkansas and South Carolina joining the league, splitting the conference into divisions and organizing a conference championship. That model, proposed by SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer, has since been adopted by all the power conferences.

Now it’s television that is calling the shots in college athletics. Dooley had a lot to do with that, too.

Dooley was both Georgia’s coach and athletic director in 1981 when UGA and Oklahoma sued the NCAA for violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act by limiting the ability of colleges and, ultimately, conferences to negotiate their own television contracts. It took three years, but Georgia and Oklahoma prevailed June 27, 1984, when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed lower-court decisions and effectively stripped the NCAA of authority over football TV contracts. The ruling allowed each school or conference to cut its own deal.

“(UGA President) Fred Davison was the president of the CFA (College Football Association) and felt strongly about it, as did Oklahoma,” Dooley said. “Because of that, Oklahoma and Georgia took the lead, and obviously (the NCAA) was in violation. That changed the way games were televised, and it continues to have an effect.”

At that time, cable television was just taking form and expanding programming. Today, cable television is in decline and programming increasingly is moving to digital streaming platforms. Disney and ESPN are planning to be at the forefront of that movement.

“It’s a content-acquisition strategy,” said Vince Thompson, founder of Atlanta’s MELT sports marketing firm. “You put Texas and Oklahoma in the SEC, now you’re forcing everybody into ESPN-Plus.”

Television’s impact has grown far beyond what Dooley envisioned when he became party to that lawsuit 40 years ago.

“I knew there’d be a shift, but I never dreamed that it would be as big a shift as it has been,” Dooley said.

SEC TIMELINE

1894 – First league formed was based in Atlanta and was called Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). It included seven teams: Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Sewanee and Vanderbilt.

1895 – SIAA expands to 19 teams with additions of Central (later Eastern Kentucky), Clemson, Cumberland, Kentucky, Louisiana (LSU), Mercer and Mississippi A&M (later Miss. State).

1920 – After SIAA had grown to (loosely) include 30 schools, 14 colleges break away to form the Southern Conference. That league included Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, N.C. State, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Washington & Lee.

1922 – The Southern Conference grows to 20 members by adding Florida, LSU, South Carolina, Tulane, Vanderbilt and Virginia Military Institute (VMI).

1923 – Southern Conference adds Sewanee.

1928 – Southern Conference adds Duke to top out at 22 teams.

1932 – In December, the original SEC is formed with 13 teams: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Sewanee, Tennessee, Tulane and Vanderbilt.

1940 – Sewanee withdraws from SEC.

1964 – Georgia Tech withdraws from SEC.

1966 – Tulane withdraws from SEC, which now features 10 teams and plays a six-game conference schedule.

1990 – Arkansas (Southwest Conference) and South Carolina (Independent) are voted into league.

1992 – Arkansas and South Carolina begin competition with Eastern and Western Divisions and conference championship game.

2011 – Texas A&M (Big 12) and Missouri (Big 12) are accepted as the SEC’s 13th and 14th members, respectively.

2012 – A&M and Missouri begin SEC play.

2014 – SEC Network is launched.

July 29, 2021 – Oklahoma (Big 12) and Texas (Big 12) are invited to join league. Will enter SEC play in 2025 unless Big 12 grant-of-rights agreement is changed.