Examining the aftershock of a potential Texas and OU exodus to the SEC
On Wednesday, The Houston Chronicle’s Brent Zwerneman broke the news that both the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma have contacted the SEC about potentially joining the conference.
The story comes ten years to the day that Texas A&M departed from the Big 12, with then-President R. Bowen Loftin citing the conference as being in a ‘state of uncertainty.’ Now, his words ring truer than ever as two of the Aggies’ former rivals are inquiring about becoming a part of the most dominant conference in college football.
Texas and Oklahoma each have their own reasons for desiring a move to the SEC. For Texas, they’ve been losing the in-state recruiting race to rival Texas A&M since the Aggies left the Big 12 nine years ago. Therefore, in order to reclaim their status as Texas’ premier college football program, they know there’s only one way to ensure it: Beating Texas A&M on the field.
For Oklahoma, it’s strictly a matter of carving out a wider path to the College Football Playoff. Since the CFP’s inception, OU has tried to shake the Big 12’s reputation for lack of competitiveness on the gridiron. And now — after appearing in four College Football Playoffs with no championships to show for it — the program feels it has ‘outgrown’ the Big 12 in a sense and is ready for a higher level of consistent competition.
That’s why if this move were to indeed take shape, the competitive balance of the sport would be rocked to its core. Texas and Oklahoma have been Big 12 blue bloods since the conference’s inception following the disbanding of the old Southwest Conference. Without these two programs, the conference and its remaining member schools would have to make a daunting decision: Disband and find new residencies, or promote ‘group of five’ schools to keep the Big 12 intact?
If the conference were to select the former, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario in which most leftover programs don’t call the Big Ten its new home — specifically Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State. West Virginia’s destination would likely be the ACC, while Texas Tech and Baylor is rumored to be interested in a move to the Pac-12. The state of Oklahoma would have to amend its legislation designed to keep OU and Oklahoma State connected at the hip, as the two schools would be in separate conferences. As for TCU? Who knows.
However, if they were to select the latter, things could become much trickier. Finding schools that fit the conference both geographically and with competitive recruiting in mind could be a tall task. Obvious candidates would include Houston, SMU, and Texas State. However — if the Big 12 doesn’t want to extend an invitation to more than one Texas institution — SMU would likely get the nod, with BYU, Boise State, and Tulsa immediately becoming contenders for acceptance.
The most logical scenario? SMU, BYU, Boise State, and Houston all get the call up. The conference returns to its two-division system. All is well in the Big 12.
What they’ll try to do? Roll with SMU and Houston and permanently distort Texas in-state recruiting.
What’ll likely happen? The Big 12 ceases to exist.
If the conference folds entirely, it would open a limitless pool of different ways college football could reorganize. The SEC would contain 16 schools and be the first informal ‘super conference,’ which could set the new standard for how big-school college football operates. Another possibility is the promotion of the American Athletic Conference to ‘power five’ status, thus desperately keeping in place the current format.
With the ‘super conference’ format, people I’ve spoken to say you could even go as far as to theorize a relegation system — such as the one used in most popular European soccer leagues. Teams would be promoted and demoted on a 3-to-5-year basis based solely on performance. This would ensure competitive matchups on a weekly basis, which (as we’re all aware) television networks adore.
Regardless of what changes are made, it’s evident now more than ever that the NCAA simply can’t drag their feet in creating a more intuitive system for Division 1 college football. After passing new Name, Image, and Likeness legislation late last month, reshuffling schools — especially in a way centered around level of play and competitiveness — is rapidly becoming an inevitable next step. Texas and Oklahoma’s request to join the SEC is just the first major domino to fall in what will likely be an explosive decade of change in the realm of college football.
And in all honesty? It’s been a long time coming.