Oklahoma, Texas plan ‘huge celebration’ to ring in SEC membership

July 1 is first official day in conference
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey walks onto the field during the first half of the SEC Championship football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, on Saturday, December 2, 2023. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey walks onto the field during the first half of the SEC Championship football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, on Saturday, December 2, 2023. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

In Austin on Sunday, they’re throwing a “Texas-sized party” that’s scheduled to last nine hours. On Monday morning in Norman, Oklahoma, they’re planning a “Wake Up in the SEC” celebration that also will last into the night, culminating with a concert in the football stadium.

For the rest of the world, Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC is old news. But for those two institutions and the SEC itself, midnight Sunday represents a historic moment. That’s when June 30 turns to July 1 and the former Big 12 powers officially become members of the SEC.

The two schools accepted the SEC’s invitation to join the league in July 2021. Starting Monday, it officially becomes a 16-team conference.

“Just to see the social-media reaction to the SEC logo being painted on the field in Austin and in Norman was pretty cool,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey told Paul Finebaum of ESPN and SEC Network. “It’s hard to believe it’s been three years, but we’re all really excited that the time is here. … It’s going to be a joyous celebration.”

The teams actually are coming on board a year early. Their original agreement was to start in 2025, but Oklahoma and Texas negotiated a $100 million settlement with the Big 12 in February 2023 to be able to start their SEC membership in 2024.

And so, the party begins. In Texas, it starts at 1 p.m. Sunday as the main mall on campus – which the school calls “the Forty Acres” – will be opened up to fans and families with a fair-like environment featuring a Ferris Wheel, interactive games, food trucks and the like. The big moment is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. at the UT Tower, when Sankey will offer the SEC’s official welcome to Texas President Jay Hartzell, Athletic Director Chris Del Conte, regents and administrators. Following a fireworks show, Pitbull will perform a free concert.

“This is a day we have been building towards for years,” Del Conte said. “We can’t wait to see the ‘Burnt Orange and White’ come out for a jam-packed day of activities celebrating all of our traditions and create new memories as we join the SEC.”

Sankey will travel from Austin to Norman on Monday so he can be on hand for the Sooners’ official welcome into the conference. Tailgating is being encouraged around Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The SEC Network’s programs will originate from the stadium from 2-8 p.m. What they’re calling the “Party at the Palace” begins at 5 p.m. and will feature Sankey’s official welcome, followed by live music.

One of the more anticipated events on both campuses will be “Midnight Madness sales.” Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Monday, fans will get their first opportunity to purchase their schools’ official SEC-sanctioned merchandise.

“This day is years in the making, so it’s appropriate for us to come together and celebrate,” Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione said. “We couldn’t be more excited to join the SEC. Our teams are poised for success and look forward to the competition with many of America’s most outstanding universities.”

The addition of these two particular athletic programs definitely will ramp up the competition quotient in the SEC. While the SEC likes to say sports “just means more” to them, the Longhorns just claimed their third “all-sports title” by finishing in the coveted No. 1 spot of the Learfield Standings. Meanwhile, Oklahoma won its fourth consecutive national title in women’s fast-pitch softball.

Oklahoma and Texas deciding in 2021 to join the SEC was the first domino in what has become a seismic change in college athletics. Since then, the ACC and Big Ten have expanded to include 18 teams, the Big 12 now has 16 teams and the Pac-12 has been whittled to two.

The SEC, ACC and Big Ten in particular dominate both on the competitive field of play and in the arena of television marketing. Led by Sankey, the remaining four conferences have been meeting separately under the label of the “Autonomous Four” and lobbying Congress to help reform college athletics, which is dealing with unregulated name, image and likeness (NIL) compensation and unlimited transfers for athletes.

The U.S. House Committee on Education and Workforce last month voted to forward a bill that would prevent college athletes from being deemed employees of their schools, conferences or the NCAA. But what major college athletics will look like as NIL becomes a growing factor.

At issue is whether the group of four will remain under the auspices of the NCAA. There is growing sentiment that the Autonomous 4 should break off and proceed under their own guidelines that would provide parameters in the growing area of compensation and shared revenue.

“That’s the great unknown,” said Sankey, who is making almost weekly trips Washington, D.C. “It’s not unknowable but it’s the great unknown and we’ve made plenty of trips and had many, many conversations with Congressional leaders.”

However, Sankey said at the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Florida, that the league is not looking to expand further. Considering SEC members, new and old, just won the men’s and women’s track, softball, baseball and men’s golf championships, it’s understandable that they’d be content with standing pat.

“We’re focused on this new chapter and how we move forward,” Sankey said.

Oklahoma’s first SEC football game is Sept. 21 at home against Tennessee. Texas plays Mississippi State at home Sept. 28. The new members must play every SEC team over the next two seasons.

2024 Texas football schedule

  • Aug. 31 – Colorado State
  • Sept. 7 – at Michigan
  • Sept. 14 – Texas-San Antonio
  • Sept. 21 – Louisiana-Monroe
  • Sept. 28 – Mississippi State (SEC)
  • Oct. 12 – vs. Oklahoma (SEC; Cotton Bowl, Dallas)
  • Oct. 19 – Georgia (SEC)
  • Oct. 26 – at Vanderbilt (SEC)
  • Nov. 9 – Florida (SEC)
  • Nov. 16 – at Arkansas (SEC)
  • Nov. 23 – Kentucky (SEC)
  • Nov. 30 – at Texas A&M (SEC)

2024 Oklahoma football schedule

  • Aug. 30 – Temple
  • Sept. 7 – Houston
  • Sept. 14 – Tulane
  • Sept. 21 – Tennessee (SEC)
  • Sept. 28 – at Auburn (SEC)
  • Oct. 12 – vs. Texas (SEC; Cotton Bowl)
  • Oct. 19 – South Carolina (SEC)
  • Oct. 26 – at Ole Miss (SEC)
  • Nov. 2 – Maine
  • Nov. 9 – at Missouri (SEC)
  • Nov. 23 – Alabama (SEC)
  • Nov. 30 – at LSU (SEC)