2021 has been a tumultuous year for college football, to say the least. From the news that a 12-team playoff is all but assured to be happening in the near future, to the massive rule changes allowing athletes to profit from name, image and likeness, college football and college sports will never be the same after this year.
And now comes the news that Oklahoma and Texas appear to be on the verge of joining the SEC, turning what was already a super-conference into a super-duper-mega conference:
See that? It’s their choice. Oklahoma and Texas have all the power here. It’s up to them.
Citing “a high-ranking college official with knowledge of the situation,” the Houston Chronicle‘s Brent Zwerneman first reported that the SEC could announce the additions of the Longhorns and Sooners “within a couple of weeks.”
“There is way too much smoke at this point,” one Big 12 source tells CBS Sports.
The Longhorns are soon expected to inform the Big 12 that they do not plan to extend their grant of media rights deal with the conference, according to Stadium’s Brett McMurphy, who also reports that there is mutual interest about having Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC. The Big 12’s grant of rights agreement expires in 2025.
University of Texas regents chair Kevin Elfite is behind the pitch, sources tell CBS Sports. Elfite is a 62-year-old commercial real estate investor in Tyler, Texas, who served in the Texas Senate from 2004-13. He was appointed as a regent to the UT system by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2019.
And nobody involved with the rumored moves is actually denying it’s happening:
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey would not address the reports while in attendance at 2021 SEC Media Days on Wednesday.
“No comment on that speculation,” he told CBS Sports. Sankey later added: “We are only worried about the 2021 season. Somebody dropped a report from unnamed people.”
Not a denial…
Texas and Oklahoma released similar statements refusing the acknowledge the reports.
“Speculation swirls around collegiate athletics. We will not address rumors or speculation,” said the Longhorns.
“The college athletics landscape is shifting constantly. We don’t address every anonymous rumor,” said the Sooners.
Not a denial, either. Nobody’s actually saying, “No, this rumor is false, it’s not happening. Texas and Oklahoma aren’t going anywhere.”
So it’s in the works; it’s going to happen.
At the very least, Oklahoma and Texas are strongly, strongly considering leaving the Big 12. They want to do it.
This move is great for both Texas and Oklahoma, although they’re really going to have to step their games up if they hope to compete with the Alabamas and Georgias and Floridas of the sport.
But either way, this is a massive move that will shake up college football to the core. For one thing, the Big 12 is done as a conference if Texas and Oklahoma leave. They’re by far the richest, most popular and most powerful programs in the Big 12. They prop the whole thing up.
I mean, look at the Big 12 without Texas and Oklahoma:
Who’s the real marquee program left–Iowa State? Sure, until Matt Campbell leaves for greener pastures.
If Texas and Oklahoma bolt, Matt Campbell is 100% outta’ there. He’s one of the great young coaches in the country right now, and if he gets any whiff that his conference is about to go belly-up, he’s gone. He could have the USC job in three hours max if he wanted. He could have all but like 4 jobs in the country on a moment’s notice if he really wanted.
Once Oklahoma and Texas leave the Big 12, the Big 12 conference is dead.
Obviously that’s not the case in basketball, as the Big 12 is a basketball powerhouse with Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia. But in terms of football, the conference is toast.
I’d imagine the other conferences begin circling the Big 12 like vultures trying to pick at the remaining schools. We could see Kansas and/or West Virginia bolt to the Big Ten, as they would be the most natural geographic fits. The Big Ten already has a presence in states that border both Kansas and West Virginia.
But those schools moving to the Big Ten would not be anywhere near enough to gain ground on the SEC in terms of football. The SEC would be so far ahead of the rest of the country it might not even be possible for anyone to catch up to them. The Big Ten would have to try to somehow add Clemson and/or Notre Dame, but while Notre Dame is a good geographical fit, Clemson is not even close to Big Ten country.
I’ve heard that if Notre Dame joins a conference, they’re apparently contractually obligated to joining the ACC. Even though we’ve all known for decades that Notre Dame is in the heart of Big Ten country and the most natural fit for them in terms of conference is obviously the Big Ten, I don’t think it can happen. Just look at the 2020 season: when Notre Dame had to join a conference due to Covid, they joined the ACC, not the Big Ten. Notre Dame basketball is part of the ACC. As much as Notre Dame is obviously a Big Ten school in spirit, they have always done business with the ACC, not the Big Ten.
Paul Finebaum said “Notre Dame is in play” in terms of finally joining a conference, but Heather Dinich said Notre Dame has to join the ACC if they do go that route. As in, they don’t have a choice here. For Notre Dame, it’s either remain independent or join the ACC. The Big Ten isn’t an option.
No, what the Big Ten needs to do is try to intervene here, at the last minute, and poach Oklahoma. I don’t think Texas would join the Big Ten. It’s too much of a stretch to imagine the Texas Longhorns from Austin joining the Big Ten. Texas is way closer to SEC Country than it is to the Big Ten headquarters in Chicago.
But Oklahoma: if the Big Ten could poach Kansas (for basketball) and Oklahoma for football, that would be an absolutely massive move. The Big Ten has Nebraska, and if they got Kansas, that would be a connecting state to Oklahoma, and then, Boomer Sooner, Oklahoma becomes a “natural fit” for the Big Ten.
I’ve always thought it was an inevitability–in the timeframe of 5, 10, 15 years–that Oklahoma would join the Big Ten. But now it appears they’re heading for the SEC. It’s not a bad move for Oklahoma to join the SEC–I think they actually truly want to be there, because right now, Oklahoma, as the dominant program in the Big 12, doesn’t even have a guaranteed playoff bid even if they win the conference. If they join a 16-team SEC, and the playoff expands to 12 teams, a one or even two loss Oklahoma could realistically make the playoff. Hell, I would bet within 5 years of the 12-team playoff becoming a reality, we see a three-loss team make the playoff, and that team is going to be from the SEC.
The Big Ten really needs to swoop in here in and try to convince Oklahoma to join them, not the SEC. It’s a long shot, but it’s worth a try. It would be attractive for Oklahoma: there is a dedicated Big Ten Network TV channel; the Big Ten is in good recruiting country with states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Maryland (but obviously nowhere close to as good as the fertile recruiting soil of the South), and they’d be way more in the conversation for the college football playoff than they are now in the Big 12. Really, their only true competition would be Ohio State, plus occasionally Wisconsin and Penn State. That’s a lot better than going up against Bama, Georgia, LSU and Florida.
There is nothing written in stone that says Oklahoma and Texas have to be in the same conference. They could go their separate ways and maintain their annual rivalry game as an out-of-conference showdown. It wouldn’t be much of a risk in a 12-team playoff environment because of the automatic bids plus the at-large bids. It’s not like losing that game would kill their season.
If Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC, then schools like Ohio State and Clemson would have to look around and think, “Our conference cannot hold a candle to this Southern behemoth.” Maybe that’s a good thing for them: Ohio State and Clemson can keep on dominating their conferences and basically have automatic playoff berths.
I think Ohio State and Clemson might consider going independent, honestly. Both those schools are way too good for the conferences they’re currently in. Clemson owns the ACC. Nobody else comes anywhere close to them. Same thing with Ohio State.
They could start to look around and think to themselves, “Wait a minute; we’re propping all these other schools in our conference up. They’d be nothing without us.” And for Ohio State, which was the school that fought the hardest for football to be played in the Big Ten last fall, they would probably say, “Look, the Big Ten just cramps our style in a major way. We had to go to the mat just to convince them to play a football season in 2020. We’re trying to compete with Alabama and Clemson; we can’t have the Big Ten holding us back.”
In my view, the best possible outcome would be to take the 48 or 64 best teams in college football from coast to coast and just break away entirely. That would mean basically an NFL for college football. It would be a permanent “Super League,” a term we heard thrown around in European soccer recently, and it would solve all the problems we have now. Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, Oregon, Georgia, Notre Dame, Texas, USC, Miami, Michigan, Wisconsin, Auburn, FSU and all the rest–they’d be in. The next-best programs in the FBS Power Five would also be in. And you’d have 4 divisions, with four automatic berths, plus seven at-large bids from across the four divisions, plus 1 guaranteed berth from the non-Super League teams (which are currently referred to as the “Group of Five”).
This is really what we need, but if the SEC adds Oklahoma and Texas, then why the hell would they be on-board with it? They would have no reason to. They’d be far and away the most dominant conference in college football, and they’d be almost guaranteed to dominate the playoff for years to come.
However, that’s assuming the playoff goes to 12 teams. In a 4-team playoff environment, there’s actually not much incentive for Texas and Oklahoma to join the SEC. Because right now, Texas and Oklahoma just have to compete with one another to win the Big 12 and get that (presumed) playoff berth. But if we maintain the 4-team playoff system and Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC, they’re actually way less likely to make the playoff in a given year, given that Ohio State and Clemson are basically penciled-in year in, year out. It’s Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State virtually guaranteed every year.
So the fact that we’re even hearing about Oklahoma and Texas possibly joining the SEC tells me that the 12-team playoff is 100% happening, no questions asked, hands-down, guaranteed. It’s a certainty. Oklahoma and Texas–two of the heaviest hitters in college football–are operating as if the 12-team playoff is a certainty.
At the end of the day, this is an absolutely crazy situation. Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC opens up a can of worms for the rest of the country the likes of which we’ve never seen. It completely changes the landscape of college football. Completely. It will set in motion a chain of events that I can’t even begin to try to predict how it will actually shake out.
College football is in the midst of some serious changes, but I think when the dust finally settles, the sport will be in a better place in terms of the viewing experience for the average fan.