The SEC is expanding again.
This time it will add two more teams. The SEC’s 14 presidents met in Birmingham, Ala., on Thursday and voted unanimously to accept the admission petitions of the universities of Oklahoma and Texas to be invited into the league. That’s considered a formality for membership.
So, the SEC will consist of 16 teams eventually, but not until July 1, 2025. That’s when the Big 12′s current grant-of-rights TV contract expires.
When that deal expires, the additions of Oklahoma and Texas will make the SEC the third-most lucrative sports marketing entity in America, behind the NFL and NBA. In December, the SEC negotiated a 10-year television contract with Disney/ESPN worth $3 billion. This latest development is expected to void that deal and increase it considerably.
“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,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement released by the league office in Birmingham. “I greatly appreciate the collective efforts of our Presidents and Chancellors in considering and acting upon each school’s membership interest.”
The SEC emphasized that the actions were in accordance with SEC Bylaw 3.1.2, which authorizes the chief executive officers of the conference to extend invitations for membership if at least three-fourths of its 14 member institutions vote to approve. UGA President Jere Morehead currently presides as the SEC’s president and oversaw Thursday’s vote.
While celebrated within the SEC, the clandestine maneuverings of Sankey, ESPN programming executives and the Texas and OU leadership have angered many others in college athletics, the NCAA and Big 12 in particular. The Big 12 on Wednesday sent a cease-and-desist letter to ESPN for allegedly colluding to destroying the conference by pilfering membership for the SEC and other conferences.
“I have absolute certainty that they have been involved in manipulating other conferences to go after our members,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby told several news outlets Wednesday.
It is widely speculated that Thursday’s move was the first of many that will result in a massive realignment of the college football landscape and move the Power 5 conferences – which includes the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 and once included the Big 12 – closer toward a breakaway from the NCAA.
It also comes amid a concerted effort to expand the College Football Playoff to 12 teams from four. Many believe this expansion only enhances the SEC’s chances of being well-represented when that happens.
“I think one of the real driving forces right now, besides the money, is having the best shot of getting into the 12-team playoff,” said former Georgia coach Jim Donnan, who worked for Barry Switzer at Oklahoma and has children and grandchildren living in Norman. “If you’re in the best league, and there’s six at-large slots available like they’re talking about, you’ve got to think a two-loss SEC team is going to have a heck of a shot now. I could see three or four teams making it. So, when you look at that and the big TV contract and the ESPN package, it’s good for the league, it’s good for Georgia, and it’s certainly good for Oklahoma and Texas.”
Expansion is nothing new to the SEC. This is the third expansion of the league since 1991. That’s when Arkansas and South Carolina joined and the conference was split into divisions for football.
Depending on one’s accounting of the developments, this is at least the sixth incarnation of the league since its original formation of 13 teams in December 1932.
Only 10 universities have remained members of the conference since its inception – Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Georgia Tech (1964), Sewanee (1940) and Tulane (1966) were all charter members before withdrawing.
Arkansas and South Carolina were approved as members in 1990, and the league began competing as Eastern and Western Divisions in 1992. Texas A&M and Missouri were approved as the 13th and 14th members in the fall of 2011 and began SEC competition in 2012.
But there have been at least 14 incarnations of organized college football in the South. It first started in Atlanta in 1894 as the brainchild of professor William Dudley of Vanderbilt. He organized the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA), which included seven charter members in Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Sewanee and Vanderbilt.
The SIAA would grow to include 30 colleges and universities by 1920. It was at that point that UGA professor S.V. Sanford organized a breakout of 14 schools to form the Southern Conference in December 1920. That league, which included Clemson, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Washington & Lee, would add eight football teams from 1922 to 1928, including Florida, LSU, South Carolina, Tulane, Vandy, VMI, Sewanee and Duke.
The SEC remained a 10-team league from 1966-91.