HOOVER, Ala. – Ross Bjork appeared at SEC Media Days on Wednesday with intentions to support his two football players and his football coach.
Maybe he’d lurk in the shadows, greet league staff members and say hello to media members he hadn’t seen since before the pandemic.
Instead, the Texas A&M athletic director found himself directly in the spotlight, embroiled in a frenzy of media attention as a report emerged that Texas, the Aggies’ hated in-state rival, and Oklahoma were interested in joining the SEC.
So much for the quiet day. What followed was a bevy of interviews where Bjork publicly advocated against any expansion that would include the Longhorns. He even approached SEC commissioner Greg Sankey with a similar message.
We aren’t for this.
“We want to be the only SEC program in the state of Texas,” he said to reporters.
And just like that, off we went into one of the most bizarre, hectic two hours in SEC media days history, when conference expansion buzz swept through the league’s kickoff event within the bowels of the Hyatt Regency hotel.
The news is true, sources confirmed to Sports Illustrated: Texas and Oklahoma have made serious inquiries with the SEC about joining the conference; the schools have both delivered to the league a clear message that they are exploring an exit strategy from the Big 12.
“How can you not listen when they say, ‘We’re leaving?’” says an industry source.
But there are plenty of impediments standing in the way, such as TV contracts and political pressures. There’s another high hurdle as well: Would SEC membership add a team against the vehement wishes of one of its other members?
Officially, the league could. Expansion calls for a vote of three-fourths of the conference membership, or 11 of the 14 teams. But, for such a significant move, would the league not want a unanimous decision?
In multiple interviews Wednesday, while parading around the Hyatt, Sankey declined to answer questions about the report.
“I do not respond to anonymous sources,” he said in a scheduled interview with SI. Asked if the league was interested in expansion, Sankey said, “I'll refer you to my previous answer.”
Oklahoma and Texas both released statements, neither of which denied the report. Oklahoma State released an assertive response to the story, describing the school as “gravely disappointed” if the report is deemed true.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told SI that he knew nothing about the issue.
Bjork, meanwhile, went on an anti-Texas campaign, boldly politicking against any move that brings into the conference their archrival and encouraging the league to look for a more “broad” approach to expansion. Bjork’s appearance at media days was a surprise and a historical rarity here. SEC athletic directors do not normally attend media days.
During his interviews Wednesday, Bjork said that SEC athletic directors have not discussed expansion, but league administrators, he says, know how the Aggies feel.
And now, after Wednesday, so does Sankey.
“I talked to the commissioner and I expressed the same things I told you, about our feelings and perspective,” Bjork told SI. “Those perspectives haven’t changed since A&M joined the SEC. Those are the reasons A&M joined the SEC. … That’s why we left, to have our own identity. We’re a flagship university. We have the size and scale. It’s been a great fit and we want to maintain that moving forward. Everybody in the SEC knows that.”
One college athletic source told SI that high-level conversations at Texas and Oklahoma “have been going on for a while,” and that the current state of college athletics—in the midst of a transformative year with an impending NCAA shakeup and playoff expansion—have incited the move.
“You knew disruption was coming,” says one college administrator. “At the end of the day, it’s all going to be about money.”
The report stunned Bjork, he says.
In fact, as The Houston Chronicle’s story published at about 2:40 p.m. local time, Bjork was speaking to two reporters, shooting the you-know-what about everything in college athletics (oddly enough, much of the conversation centered on the long-running feud between the Aggies and Longhorns—they haven’t played since A&M left the Big 12 in 2012).
In the middle of the conversation, Bjork’s phone buzzed and up flashed the caller ID: It was school president Katherine Banks.
“I’ve got to take this,” Bjork said, “it’s the boss.”
Banks, his own president, informed Bjork of the story in a 10-minute phone call that unfolded just before his head football coach, Jimbo Fisher, took the main stage for his appearance at SEC media days.
Minutes later, the AD stepped into a dimly lit hallway here, smiled and delivered an unmistakable message to a group of reporters, jump starting one of the more bizarre days to ever transpire at this event.
“What’s the broader approach nationally that’s got to happen?” he asked. “Those are the things I’m interested in nationally. What’s the evolving nature of college athletics and how would we lead in that process? What does adding two teams get you? Nobody has that answer."
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