The hot rumor ’round town from the Houston Chronicle is that OU and Texas — the two teams who account for the most and second-most conference football championships in the history of the Big 12 — have reached out to the SEC about potentially joining the league and forming an SEC-super-conference.
Their departure from the Big 12 and inclusion in the SEC would send shockwaves across college football and would cause a significant power shift that greatly diminishes the Big 12 and its members.
But what would be the larger implications be for the league, for OSU and overall? Some thoughts below.
OSU could be a package deal
The thinking all along in the original conference realignment was that if OU were to go anywhere, OSU would be tied at the hip by law, according to the state legislature. That’s not in writing, however; instead, it’s an informal assumption made based largely on the politics involved: if OU were to bounce OSU tag along, too.
So OU, OSU and Texas to the SEC? That’s one possibility, sure. But it’d create a 17-team conference, and moreover, how motivated is the SEC to try and scoop OSU anyway? OU and Texas would be huge additions, no doubt, and maybe you take OSU knowing you might not get OU without them, but you’re putting a lot into that assumption.
Additionally, if you’re OU, why would you even let OSU serve as a speed bump out of town? I get the politics involved here — and I ultimately think this is a fairly large sticking point — but if you’re OU, I also get wanting to best position yourself in the market. Where is the most TV money? Where is the best exposure? What is best for the long-term health of the athletic programs?
That might be with the SEC. Maybe it involves OSU and maybe it doesn’t, but when you look at it from OU’s perspective, seeing that aspect of this as a sticking point doesn’t add up.
Ultimately, OSU trailing OU and joining the SEC together — if that’s what OU decides to do — would be the best move for OSU. If you’re OSU, I think you’d have to be holding your breath that’d happen. The Big 12 might survive losing its top two programs, but it’d no doubt struggle and staying around to see what that looks like would create a lot of uncertainty. And even if OSU is the last brand standing, it’s probably in a lessened conference that almost certainly wouldn’t wield the same power it once did.
Dominate the Big 12?
Should OU and Texas bolt on their own and leave everyone behind, OSU could stand pat and opt not to explore other conferences. That would leave the Big 12 with eight teams, though, so theoretically the Big 12 would add, too. Either way, staying and making the best of the situation would be interesting. Can you imagine how dominant OSU golf would be without OU and Texas? Ditto for softball? Heck, maybe even football!
In this scenario I could see the Big 12 adding teams. Maybe you go out and give Houston and SMU tickets to the big show. That gets you to 10 teams and into the big Texas markets. That probably devalues the Big 12 quite a bit. Maybe it’s worth staying at eight in this scenario and rolling with what you’ve got rather than accumulating some souped up version of the American Athletic Conference. Or, more likely, it’s worth exploring other options to see if you can get out of a league in turmoil.
Big Ten, Pac-12, you up?
Geographically, the Big Ten makes plenty of sense. It has a footprint in the midwest with Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and others. Oklahoma State would extend that map quite a bit but also wouldn’t be that big a stretch. Can you imagine playing in Ann Arbor, or Columbus? That would be big-time. It’d likely expand OSU’s recruiting footprint and its overall national profile, too.
While the Pac-12 doesn’t make geographic sense, it would at least be an option. This league was active in the last round of realignment. Maybe go join former conference mate Colorado and hope for the best.
The conference has been on a steady decline for years, but at least you could talk yourself into strength in numbers and an uptick under new leadership. It wouldn’t be on the same level as an SEC superconference ran by Greg Sankey, but with brands like UCLA, USC and Oregon it’d be a strong league in key sports that allows you to compete at the highest level.
OU and Texas signed a Big 12 grant-of-rights agreement surrendering their first tier and second tier media rights for football and men’s basketball to the Big 12 through the summer of 2025, according to ESPN. So while a move could be possible for both schools, that aspect is a complicating factor in this situation, to say nothing of tier three rights.
The league’s TV contracts with ESPN and FOX also expire in 2025 (though the Longhorn Network’s deal doesn’t expire with ESPN until 2031).
That means the Big 12 — even if OSU, OU and Texas were to jump to the SEC — would still own those schools’ media rights in those sports. Now, maybe you can renegotiate this stuff, but if you’re the Big 12, that’s significant leverage that hangs over Big 12 teams in all this and may be an insurmountable obstacle.
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