Texas and Oklahoma are officially one step away from making the Southeastern Conference the most powerful league in college sports history.
The SEC’s current members unanimously approved (14-0) the Longhorns’ and Sooners’ requests for membership into the league starting July 1, 2025, following a controversial announcement earlier this week that the schools would be leaving the Big 12 at the expiration of their current grant of media rights.
The unopposed vote was largely expected. Texas A&M, of which leadership just last week publicly spoke against a Texas addition at SEC Media Days, changed course and voted to support SEC expansion Thursday.
Both Texas’ and Oklahoma’s boards of regents meet Friday to officially approve the move, the last remaining barrier between two of college sports’ biggest brands and a mighty 16-team league that would likely generate revenue and influence not ever before seen in college athletics.
“Today’s unanimous vote is both a testament to the SEC’s longstanding spirit of unity and mutual cooperation, as well as a recognition of the outstanding legacies of academic and athletic excellence established by the Universities of Oklahoma and Texas,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a news release. “I greatly appreciate the collective efforts of our Presidents and Chancellors in considering and acting upon each school’s membership interest.”
Texas and Oklahoma were Nos. 1 and 8 nationally in terms of total college athletic department revenue in 2018-19, with their exit leaving behind a destabilized Big 12 in their wake. Eight teams (including Kansas and Kansas State) are remaining from a league in which the Longhorns and Sooners were founding members of in 1994, beginning Big 12 play two years later.
A recent development involving accusations made by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby against media giants ESPN — which will own the SEC’s full television rights in 2024 via a $300 million deal — has advanced the situation into conflict.
Bowlsby sent a cease-and-desist letter Wednesday to the network, alleging that ESPN was conspiring with other leagues to poach away members from the Big 12 and dissolve it — meaning Texas and Oklahoma wouldn’t have to pay millions to depart the conference early and ESPN wouldn’t have to pay the remaining money on a Big 12 TV contract going until 2025. ESPN called the accusations “without merit” in a response to the letter Thursday.
Bowlsby released a statement Thursday in response to the SEC’s vote, again proclaiming that there has been talk between the departing schools and ESPN.
“Today’s SEC announcement reaffirms that these plans have been in the works with ongoing discussions between the parties and television partner for some time,” Bowlsby said in the statement. “We are disappointed these discussions went as far as they did without notice to, or inclusion of, other Big 12 members. Despite our concerns for the process and for the overall health of college athletics, we will do everything possible to make sure that the student-athletes at both universities enjoy an excellent experience throughout the remaining four years of their participation and competition in the Big 12 Conference.”
Texas and Oklahoma’s move to the league comes a decade after Missouri and Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC, a move heavily influenced by the Longhorns’ attempts to strong-arm heavier chunks of rights deals and the creation of ESPN’s Longhorn Network, a $300 million deal for a channel that almost exclusively shows Texas content.