Oklahoma and Texas would make SEC better, richer

Michael Barnett's Georgia Bulldogs beat Oklahoma in the 2018 College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl in the only meeting between the teams. Oklahoma and Texas are seeking to join Georgia in the SEC. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Caption
Michael Barnett's Georgia Bulldogs beat Oklahoma in the 2018 College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl in the only meeting between the teams. Oklahoma and Texas are seeking to join Georgia in the SEC. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Credit: Jeff Gross

Credit: Jeff Gross

Oklahoma has been the Big 12′s top football program for a decade, which places it just a notch below the SEC’s best. Texas has become nationally irrelevant during the same period despite its location in the nation’s second-best state for blue-chip recruits but, at some point, its success once again will match its ambitions. Those are the reasons why Oklahoma and Texas would make the SEC, college football’s best conference, even better.

That would be the on-field outcome of those two programs get their wish to join the SEC and form a 16-team Super League. But competition has little to do conference realignments, as you may recall from the last round a decade ago. Geography and history hardly matter. The SEC is open to accepting Oklahoma and Texas because they would make college football’s best conference also its richest.

The Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday that Texas and Oklahoma have informally reached out to the SEC about joining the league. Both schools issued non-denials, which means there’s something to the story. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey didn’t want to talk about it, which means there’s something to the talk. Texas A&M registered its objection to Texas joining, which won’t be enough on its own to stop it from happening.

From a consumer perspective, there’s a lot to like about Texas and Oklahoma playing football in the SEC. That’s assuming you’re not married to tradition (bless your heart) or aligned with the Big 12 teams that would be left to find new homes when the conference collapses. Texas and Oklahoma in the SEC would mean more games featuring traditionally strong programs. Better television programming means higher ratings and more revenue.

It will take a while for this thing to shake out. First, Oklahoma and Texas must inform the Big 12 they want to leave. Stadium reported that the schools will start that process “within the next week” by informing the Big 12 they don’t want to renew the league’s media grant-of-rights deal, which expires in 2025. Oklahoma and Texas would leave a lot of money on the table if they bolted before then.

Assuming those schools follow through, the SEC would have to vote to accept them. SEC bylaws state that 11 of 14 members must agree to extend an invitation to new members. The Austin American-Statesman reported that Missouri would join Texas A&M in opposition to Texas and Oklahoma.

The Aggies like their status as the state’s lone SEC program, especially since it gives them an edge over the hated Longhorns. Missouri enjoys its Midwest monopoly on SEC football. If it comes to a vote and their position doesn’t change, then two more no votes would scuttle Oklahoma and Texas joining the league.

Maybe Arkansas would join the opposition. The Razorbacks escaped the shadow of Texas in 1990 when it left the Southwest Conference for the Southeast. Perhaps some other SEC members wouldn’t like whatever divisional realignment comes with two new teams. It would be hard to keep everyone happy with the schedule in a 16-team league spread across 12 states and three regions.

Those differences and all others can be smoothed over with money. SEC schools already are swimming in cash, but there’s more to be made with realignment. The entire history of modern college football says they won’t turn it down.

Each SEC school received about $45.5 million from a league revenue pot of $729 million during the 2019-20 fiscal year, according to USA Today. But Big Ten schools made more money. They each got $54.3 million from league revenue of $768.9 million in the last fiscal year.

The ten Big 12 schools each received $37-41 million from league revenues of $409 million. Texas and Oklahoma apparently believe they can do better in the SEC. The pot would be split 16 ways instead of 14, but it’s potentially a much bigger pot.

The SEC’s media grant-of-rights deal doesn’t expire until 2034 (its “Tier 1” deal with CBS ends in 2024). But adding Texas and Oklahoma would set off renegotiations with ESPN and CBS. The SEC would bargain from a strong position because Texas and Oklahoma are draws.

The Longhorns have long been chronic underachievers on the field, but they are the biggest moneymaker in college sports. Oklahoma is among the top 10 college athletic programs in revenue. Surely, ESPN would be willing to enhance its current deal with the SEC so that it can add two programs that bring more viewers. Then ESPN could increase the per-subscriber fees it charges cable companies to carry its networks (that money spigot shows no signs of slowing even as more consumers cut the cord).

From a football perspective, Oklahoma might have more to lose than Texas with a move to the SEC. The Sooners have made the College Football Playoff in four of seven years. They’d have a much tougher path getting there as part of the SEC. But that would be less of a concern if the CFP follows through with its proposal to expand the field from four to 12 teams when its contract with ESPN expires in 2025.

Texas hasn’t come close to making the CFP. The Longhorns have appeared in just 11 of the CFP’s 42 weekly rankings, with a high placing of 11th. They’ve played in just three of the past 10 conference title games. Since 2010, Texas has more losing seasons (three) than top-10 finishes in the media and coaches polls (one, after beating Georgia in the 2019 Sugar Bowl).

As things stand now, Oklahoma would be a second-tier team in the SEC (third if you put Alabama alone at the top). Texas would be a league also-ran, but that wouldn’t be much of a change from its recent status in the Big 12. Both programs could get more recruiting wins in the SEC. Georgia, Alabama and LSU have signed better prospects over the past five years per 247Sports.com.

That’s the football part of the equation. We know that’s not as important as the money. In this case, those two things are in harmony. Adding Texas and Oklahoma would make the SEC a better and richer football conference.

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