Southeastern Conference presidents unanimously vote to add OU, Texas into league

Ryan Aber
Oklahoman

NORMAN — Bring on ‘Bama.

And Auburn. And Florida. And Georgia. 

Bring back Texas A&M and Missouri.

Bring on the SEC.

OU’s entrance into the venerable conference was sealed Thursday when the Southeastern Conference’s presidents and chancellors unanimously voted to invite both OU and Texas, the league announced.

The primary questions remaining are the ultimate timing of the move and the fate of the eight Big 12 teams left behind by the departures.

In making their official application to join the SEC, OU and Texas said their desire was the join the league July 1, 2025, after their current grant-of-rights agreement with the Big 12 expires.

But it isn’t likely to take that long for the pair to make the transition.

The timing will largely depend on the eight remaining members and how much solidarity there is with the group.

Just more than a week after it was reported that OU and Texas had contacted the SEC about joining the conference, the move is official. The SEC voted Thursday to invite the Sooners and Longhorns to join the conference.

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OU could owe the Big 12 as much as $80 million to leave early.

Texas could help out with that burden, though.

ESPN still owes approximately $160 million to Texas on the decade remaining on the 20-year deal that created the Longhorn Network.

Horns247.com reported earlier in the week that Texas could use the remaining money on that deal to finance the exit fee for both programs.

But if the league falls apart before the schools make their exit, that buyout number could drop sharply or disappear entirely if the league ceases to exist, saving the Longhorns and Sooners — and potentially ESPN — a hefty amount of money.

Regardless, the revenue growth for the schools figures to make up any difference in a short period of time.

With the additions of OU and Texas, the SEC is expected to distribute $60 million per year to each of its now 16 members. The Big 12’s revenue distribution last year was just less than $35 million per school, more than $10 million less than the SEC’s payout.

The Longhorn Network figures to disappear entirely or shift its focus with the move to the SEC.

The future affiliations of Texas and OU loom large over commissioner Bob Bowlsby and the Big 12.

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In the Big 12, schools retain their own Tier III media rights, supplying plenty of programming for the Longhorn Network and OU’s Sooner Sports Network, which adds programming for recently rebranded Bally Sports Oklahoma (previously Fox Sports Oklahoma).

The SEC, though, retains third-tier rights, funneling plenty of those events onto the SEC Network, which is also owned by ESPN.

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ESPN has a hefty stake in the outcome of the shuffling, with not only the two specialized networks but its current agreements sharing television rights for both the SEC and the Big 12 and the $3 billion deal signed last year giving ESPN exclusive broadcast rights across all SEC sports beginning in 2024.

Wednesday, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby accused the network of trying to break up what remains of the conference.

In a cease and desist letter addressed to ESPN, Bowlsby said the conference had become aware the network was taking “certain actions that are intended to not only harm the Big 12 Conference but to result in financial benefits for ESPN.”

The letter said its complaint wasn’t about OU and Texas’ imminent departures but the network’s alleged engagement in discussions with one or more Big 12 schools about leaving the conference and convincing others to do the same.

Thursday’s vote was unanimous, even with the public stance of Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork last week that he believed the Aggies were better off without the Longhorns in the conference.

Texas A&M’s regents voted Wednesday night to recommend approval of the measure to add the two members.

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Regents for OU and Texas will meet separately Friday morning to discuss conference membership.

This won’t be the first time OU and Oklahoma State won’t be in the same conference.

The Cowboys remained in the Southwest Conference in 1920 when the Sooners made the leap to the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association before joining the MVIAA themselves in 1925. Three seasons later, the MVIIA split, with OSU in the new Missouri Valley Conference while OU was in the Big Six.

It wasn’t until Oklahoma State joined the league, which changed its name to the Big Eight, in 1960 that the Bedlam rivals were conference partners again.

But that will change when the Sooners head to the SEC. Where the Cowboys land, though, has yet to be decided, as has the ultimate fate of the Bedlam series, not only in football but across all sports.

The schools have played every season since 1910.