COLLEGE STATION - - As the new Southeastern Conference schedule was released, two primary names were left off the list for the 2023 season.
Texas and Oklahoma are set to join the SEC no later than July 1, 2025. Many expected that with new Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormak pushing for expansion and a new media deal, the Longhorns and Sooners could be departed on an earlier date.
That might be the case. It won’t happen in 2023, according to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.
“It’s a pretty good sign that conference alignments are going to stay that way next year,” Sankey said during his visit to Kyle Field last week for Texas A&M’s matchup with Miami. “That’s a pretty good tell.”
Texas faced off against then-No. 1 Alabama at Memorial Stadium in Week 2. Next season, the Longhorns will travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala. for a non-conference matchup against Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide on Sept. 9.
Speculation of the two programs leaving early when it was announced earlier this month that Oklahoma would cancel its home-and-home series with Georgia and Tennessee. Georgia was scheduled to play in Norman in 2023 and Athens in 2031 while the Vols were set to host the Sooners in the future after the game was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Sankey said that the door wouldn’t be closed entirely for the two schools to join the conference in 2024. A major factor for early expansion? More chances for representation in the expanded College Football Playoff in the coming years.
“There’s urgency means that people are making efforts to see if it can move forward,” Sankey said. “I don’t think it’s an emergency. I don’t sense a lot of tension and nervousness. There’s 'a will to try’ is the best way to describe it.”
Change is coming to the conference in more than just expansion. One major focus for Sankey and his staff will be the schedule. Currently, the SEC plays eight games with two cross-divisional matchups. The conference could elect to go to nine games with expansion in the works.
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As for how the conference will look regarding realignment, Sankey said the goal would be to work toward riding divisions altogether. While the conference looked into the idea of pods, Sankey told reporters that the model wouldn’t work due to the rotating schedule on home-and-home matchups.
“Divisions aren’t completely erased from our consideration, but they’re not at the forefront of our thinking,” Sankey said. “We went deep into the pod model and the way you move the groupings around, you’d need to have a lot of return games.”
At SEC Media Days, it was announced that the plan would be for every team would have three permanent rivals and rotate among the other 13 schools per season. For Texas, its projected rivals are Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.
Sankey mentioned that if the conference were to rid itself of divisions, teams would have one annual rival. If that were to happen, Texas would keep its rivalry with Oklahoma over in-state foe Texas A&M due to the significance of the Red River Showdown.
As for location, Sankey said he’ll let the schools determine where they’ll play its matchups in the future. Several rivalries in the current SEC format have outings away from their respective schools. Texas A&M currently faces Arkansas in AT&T Stadium in Arlington each year for the annual Southwest Classic. The same goes for Florida and Georgia at TIAA Bank Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla. for the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”
“We’ve always worked to honor those games in a consistent way,” Sankey said. “I think there’s a lot of change here, there have been changes in certain stadiums. The schools will have to look at what the right direction will be.”
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