Word leaked Wednesday, via Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle, that Big 12 behemoths Texas and Oklahoma have been knocking on the SEC’s golden door, requesting entrance into what would be college athletics’ first actual super-conference.
If true, will the SEC hand over the pass key to the vault? Will Commissioner Greg Sankey and the league’s existing members welcome the Longhorns and Sooners into the money-making machinery that cut checks of $45.5 million for each of the league’s 14 schools for the fiscal year of 2020? There’s a decision to be made.
Truth be told, Texas and Oklahoma need the SEC much more than the SEC needs Texas and Oklahoma. Despite what Bob Stoops may think, the Big 12 isn’t in the SEC’s overall sports league. That’s true on the financial end, as well. The Big 12 generated enough revenue in 2020 to pay each member $40.5 million, $5 million below the SEC payout. Plus, the SEC’s numbers are likely to go up and up, especially when a lucrative deal with ESPN starts in 2024.
But does the SEC really want to see Texas and Oklahoma drop anchor in another league? It almost happened a few years back when the Big 12’s dynamic duo flirted with the Pac-12 only to back out of the deal at the last minute. Now that we know the two schools again have wandering eyes, might the Big Ten be interested in expanding its geographic footprint? Could the Pac-12 get back in the game? Might the ACC do something crazy?
I’d expect significant opposition from current SEC members to Texas and Oklahoma joining the club. Texas A&M Athletic Director Ross Bjork quickly went on the record as a hard no, saying “We want to be the only SEC team from the state of Texas.” Missouri has reportedly thrown its support behind the Aggies’ position. And there is a sea of red tape with regard to media and broadcast rights Oklahoma and Texas must navigate before they can escape their current home.
Locally, I’d have to think Mitch Barnhart and Kentucky would hardly be thrilled by the idea of two more football powers entering the grid-centric league. As it stands now, UK’s football task is tougher than tough. Since Roy Kramer’s first excursion into expansion — South Carolina and Arkansas joining the league in 1991; Texas A&M and Missouri joining in 2012 — the Cats have yet to win the East Division for a trip to the league’s championship game.
And with two new teams, divisional alignment would have to be altered. Imagine Alabama and Auburn moving from the West to the East, with Oklahoma and Texas settling into the West. Imagine Kentucky playing Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Georgia each and every season. That would make for a fun home schedule, but it might not do much for the win total.
Or maybe the league scraps football’s divisional format and goes for a 16-team makeup, with say a nine-game schedule of rotating opponents. Or how about a four-division, four-team setup, or at least group-of-four pods resembling how the SEC handles basketball scheduling?
Bottom line: Consolidation is coming. It’s the way of the world in big business these days and college athletics is nothing more than big business. Money matters most of all. And to protect their own interests, look for leagues to continue to expand to the point where we are likely to end up with four super-conferences of 16 teams each.
With beauties like Texas and Oklahoma as willing partners, it would not surprise me if the SEC can’t resist. Or afford to say no.