When word broke Wednesday that Oklahoma and Texas were interested in joining the SEC, my mind went to a conversation that took place more than a decade ago.
The final pieces were being put into place that would bring in Texas A&M and Missouri to form a 14-team SEC. So, I called a friend who is a huge Texas A&M supporter and asked him this: “Why would you leave the Big 12, a conference you can win, and come to the SEC where you have to play Alabama, LSU, and Auburn every single year?”
This answer was quick and emphatic:
“We would rather be a middle-of-the-road team in the SEC than stay in the same league with those #$%^& from Texas for one more day.”
So Texas A&M joins the SEC in 2012 and in its first football season in the league Johnny Manziel and the Aggies beat No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa 29-23.
And here’s the other reason my friend gave for the Aggies jumping into the SEC, the deep end of the college football pool:
“When we do this we will be able to offer a recruit in the state of Texas something that the boys in Austin can’t offer…..and that’s a chance to play in the SEC. This is going to be huge for us.”
And it has been. Texas A&M has been a tremendous fit for the Southeastern Conference. The Aggies finished 9-1 last season and No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Their only loss was to Alabama, the eventual national champions.
So you can imagine my friend’s feelings and those of Aggies everywhere when Wednesday’s news broke.
Of COURSE Texas and Oklahoma would like to be in the SEC, said Aggies Coach Jimbo Fisher.
“It’s the best league in ball. I’m sure they would like to be here,” Fisher said at SEC Media Days in Birmingham on Wednesday.
But then he gave this word of warning:
“Be careful what you ask for if you jump in this league.”
Texas A&M athletics director Ross Bjork told Ross Dellenger of SI.com that it is important that the Aggies remain “the only school from Texas in the SEC” and he would fight to protect that status.
So what’s really going on here?
I was told late Wednesday night that Oklahoma and Texas have made up their minds that they are leaving the Big 12. The Big 12’s television contracts with ESPN and FOX end in 2025 and, according to published reports, those teams have told the conference they will not be a part of the next round of TV negotiations.
The Big 12 members each received about $34.5 million in shared revenue last season, down by about $3.5 million. The SEC, by contrast, distributed $45.5 million to each of its 14 schools. The SEC also dipped into future revenues from its TV contracts to give another $23 million in supplemental income to each school because of the hardship brought on by the pandemic.
In 2024 the SEC will enter a new 10-year television rights agreement with ABC/ESPN for its football Game of the Week, which is currently on CBS. CBS pays $55 million a year for that game. The new ABC/ESPN deal will play $300 million per year for that one game. And that’s on top of its current multi-billion-dollar deal that the SEC and ESPN have for the rest of its games.
If you’re looking for a new home, you first knock on the door of the nicest house in the college football neighborhood. Financially and competitively, that would be the SEC.
The Houston Chronicle, which broke this news on Wednesday, also reported that this could be announced in a matter of weeks.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, as fate would have it, was in a hotel full of media when the news broke on Wednesday. He repeatedly said that he would not comment on the Houston Chronicle report. But he didn’t deny it.
In fact, nobody has denied Brent Zwerneman’s reporting. Brent, I might add, is the Texas A&M beat writer for the Houston Chronicle. You can make of that what you will.
So, is the SEC going to do this?
I don’t see how the conference, which has always been on the cutting edge of the evolution of college athletics, can pass this up. College athletics is changing at a breathless pace with Name, Image, and Likeness, the transfer portal, the proposed 12-team college football playoff, and the inevitable change in the governance structure of the NCAA. The answer to all of these challenges may be to become the biggest most powerful dude in the neighborhood.
Can the SEC just say no and let Texas and Oklahoma be a part of a competing conference?
The SEC bylaws state that in order to bring in a new member it must be approved by 75 percent of the members. That means that there would have to be five “no” votes out of 14 schools to deny entry.
Texas A&M, Missouri, and Arkansas, three schools that recruit the state of Texas heavily, would definitely be against the entry of the Longhorns. Alabama has 10 Texans on its 2021 roster. LSU has seven.
But here’s the reality. The presidents hired commissioner Greg Sankey to protect the long-term future of the Southeastern Conference and he has done an incredible job of that since taking over for Mike Slive in 2015. His performance in the COVID-19 football season of 2020 earned him a rightful spot as the dominant voice of college athletics.
Bottom line: If Greg Sankey believes that adding Texas and Oklahoma is best for the future of the SEC in an ever-changing landscape, then it will happen. There will be some passionate discussion about this. Commissioner Slive always said that “the First Amendment is alive and well in the Southeastern Conference.”
But if a vote is taken it will be 14-0 and every SEC member will be on board. That’s the way the SEC rolls and that’s why Texas and Oklahoma want to be a part of it.