The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Oklahoma are walking away from the Big 12 conference — the athletic association of which UT and OU have been the unquestioned cornerstones since its founding in 1994.
The two schools announced Monday that they had no plans to renew their TV and radio contracts with the Big 12 when they expire. Though the move hasn’t been made official yet, the schools are reportedly leaving for the Southeastern Conference: home of the country’s best football, and the biggest pot of money in college sports.
Sam Khan is a senior writer covering college football in Texas for The Athletic. He told Texas Standard that money is the primary motive behind UT and OU’s decisions to join the SEC.
“Broadcast television contracts, I think, are the biggest impetus here, and right now, the SEC is among two conferences in the country that lead the way in media rights revenue,” Khan said.
Before leaving the Big 12, the two schools checked with broadcast partners to see if rates could be renegotiated in the schools’ favor, but Khan says the response from ESPN, their lead broadcast partner, “seemed pretty tepid.”
Meanwhile the SEC received a far more lucrative deal from ESPN.
Khan says UT and OU currently receive $37 million each per year as part of the Big 12. He says that could double once the switch to the SEC is finalized.
Texas A&M University, which left the Big 12 for the SEC 10 years ago, to “get away from Texas,” Khan said, isn’t pleased with the idea of UT following it now.
Joining the SEC allowed A&M to get out from under the influence of UT, and to establish an identity of its own.
“They have been the only Texas school in the SEC,” he said. “It’s been a big selling point to recruits.”
Other Texas schools who are part of the Big 12 have reason to be concerned, Khan says, since Oklahoma and Texas form the backbone of the conference, and account for much of the money it takes in. One option would be for remaining schools to join another “power” conference; or the current Big 12 members could stick together, adding other schools to the mix.
“Those schools will not be able to recoup the kind of revenue that Texas and OU generate, and you could see those schools’ media rights revenue cut in half,” Khan said. “And that’s devastating to those athletic programs.”
Khan says the quality of football in an SEC “super conference” should be great, with Texas playing powerhouses like Alabama and Lousiana State University, renewing the Texas A&M rivalry and retaining its annual game with Oklahoma.
“I think those are really appealing matchups,” Khan said.
But Khan says the increasingly uneven distribution of money in college sports – specifically in college football – could change the sport significantly, especially for fans of schools like Baylor, Texas Christian University and others who remain outside the super conferences.
“To me, it changes the landscape of the sport, and I wonder what kind of path it sets us on for the sport long term,” Khan said.