ESPN’s role, possible leverage plays, the downsides and more.
Believe it when the ink is on the contract.
If you took anything away from the conference realignment hijinks of the early 2010s, that should be it. It certainly applies to Wednesday’s earth-shaking report from Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle that Oklahoma and Texas have been talking with the SEC about defecting from the Big 12 ($).
With that in mind:
- The number of other well-connected reporters like Stadium’s Brett McMurphy who are backing Zwerneman’s reporting indicate the idea has serious traction; and
- Don’t take that as a prediction this will happen.
So who’s up for some scattershot reactions?
Cue the music…
I didn’t have any inside information when I wrote last month about the fault lines developing around the Big 12. Frankly, it didn’t take a genius to suss out OU’s dissatisfaction with its conference situation. I couldn’t have imagined we’d be talking about this just a few weeks later, though.
Many Sooner fans are surely rejoicing at the prospect of OU taking off for the SEC. I’m not really one of them. The Big 12 may fall short in the demographics department, but the league has had a place in the vanguard of the sport thanks to its innovative coaches and the desire of its members to play quality football. The Sooners had a big hand in building that along with decades-old partners; bouncing for another conference would feel like squatting in someone else’s house.
OU isn’t Texas A&M of 10 years ago. It doesn’t need to draft off the SEC brand to thrive. And seeing as I won’t get a dime from this potential move, I don’t give a damn about how much money it would generate for OU’s program.
On the other hand…
I get it.
There are the benefits of adding the SEC allure to OU’s brand on the recruiting trail. Moreover, there is the money – I may not receive any of it, but I realize it takes lots of it to compete at the highest levels of the sport. Then there’s the opportunity to beef up the home schedule, which seems to be the source of most complaining I hear from dedicated fans.
Most importantly, though, you can’t deny that the structural changes that have taken place over time in college football. It has become a national product, and the Big 12 is a distinctly regional conference. That disconnect makes life hard for a program intent on competing for national titles.
Check with the boss
Hopefully you gave up long ago on the illusion that anyone besides ESPN runs college football. If the Worldwide Leader wants this, it will probably happen.
And how could Mickey not want this? Taking OU and Texas out of the Big 12 strikes a serious blow to the competition, as FOX relies on Big 12 matchups featuring those two marquee brands to provide some of its most marketable programming every season. Meanwhile, the network would add two fan-crazy programs exclusively to its already lucrative SEC inventory. It would create the closest thing we’ll get to pro football on Saturdays.
In summary, look for ESPN to work hard make this a reality – and throw mountains of cash at the SEC in the process.
Who’s the rat?
An intriguing question: Why did this story leak?
The most likely answer: A&M wanted to throw a wrench in the plans.
An A&M beat reporter broke the news. A&M athletic director Ross Bjork just so happened to be at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. The story dropped right as head coach Jimbo Fisher was taking the podium for his opening statement.
All kinds of coincidental.
The lack of transparency by our flagship institution is wrong. Such a monumental economic and educational decision impacting the entire state must not be made in a bubble on the forty acres. Working on legislation requiring legislative approval for UT to bolt the BIG XII. #txlege
— Jeff Leach (@leachfortexas) July 22, 2021
Bjork made it abundantly clear the Aggies want to keep OU and Texas out of the club. Leaking the story sets the stage for the political wrangling that helped spike the formation of the Pac-16 back in the day. At the very least, A&M brass can tell boosters they tried.
I’m all ears for a better explanation.
Getting back to the stuff about ink on contracts…
Making eyes at the SEC could theoretically open up other avenues for the Sooners and Longhorns. For example, perhaps FOX would throw more money at the Big 12 to keep the two heavyweights in place? Good idea, but it wouldn’t solve the larger structural issues with the league.
Try to pick off teams from the Pac-12? For all the unrest out west, few Pac-12 programs could add the needed heft to the Big 12.
The biggest variable is in Chicago, though. If the Big Ten decided to get involved, OU would have to listen at minimum. But bear in mind that UT’s contract with ESPN could preclude Texas from moving to the FOX-affiliated B1G. (N.B., I’m not a lawyer.) In that case, the Sooners may not like the prospect of Horns in the SEC without them.
Most likely, however, this is exactly what it seems. The smart money says we’ll see OU and Texas in the SEC in a few years, but wait until the ink is dry.