The last time Texas got its sights set for another conference, it fueled a variety of realizations in the college game that nearly killed the Big 12.
Texas is once again seeking free agency, stealing headlines from days of Southeastern Conference media and speculation about another round of convention reshuffle. And the Longhorns aren’t the only ones looking around.
There have been discussions between Texas and Oklahoma and SEC officials about changing the conventions, but no formal invitation has been extended, a person with knowledge of the situation told the Associated Press Wednesday night.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversation was intended to be kept confidential, said Texas officials began discussions. The Houston Chronicle first reported the discussions.
Adding the two members would give the powerhouse SEC 16 teams, the most in major college football. Losing two schools would be a devastating blow to the 10-man Big 12.
Questions about the report were greeted by a series of no comment from the primary parties involved, but there was no denial.
“I’m talking about the 2021 season,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said during the days of SEC football media.
Texas A&M athletic director Ross Björk didn’t want the Longhorns, the school’s biggest rival, in the SEC.
“We want to be the only SEC program in the state of Texas,” Björk told reporters. “There’s a reason Texas A&M left the Big 12, to be standalone, to have our own identity. And that’s our spirit.”
SEC bylaws require at least three-quarters (11) of members to vote in favor of an invitation to join.
“The college athletics landscape is constantly changing. We do not address every unnamed rumor,” Oklahoma said in a statement.
A Texas statement offered a similar response: “Speculation has always revolved around collegiate athletics. We will not dwell on rumors or speculation.”
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlesby did not return messages seeking comment from the AP. Just last week at the Big 12 media days in Arlington, Texas, he talked about how conference realignment was no longer a top concern for the Big 12.
“Not to say it can’t happen, but it’s not one of those things that keeps me awake at night,” he said.
Any move to leave the Big 12 would be complicated by an agreement reached by its schools after a final round of restructuring to hand over their media rights to the league through their existing television deals. The granting of rights coincides with contracts for the Big 12 with Fox and ESPN and runs through the 2024-25 school year.
Back in 2010, the then-Pac-10 tried to lure Texas and five other Big 12 schools into the West Coast-based convention to form the Pac-16.
Texas persisted and instead started its own television network. After another flirtation between Texas, Oklahoma and then-Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, Texas A&M bolted to the SEC in 2012 and Missouri followed.
The Big 12, which had already lost the Big Ten to Nebraska and the Pac-12 to Colorado, managed to hang on by inviting TCU and West Virginia.
College sports were turned upside down for nearly three years as conferences jockeyed to reinvent themselves and schools scrambled not to exempt. The Big East was forced out of the major college football business before eventually being reorganized as the American Athletic Conference.
Life would be uncertain without Texas and Oklahoma — at best — for the other schools in the Big 12.
Even an unconfirmed report prompted a vocal reaction from the state of Oklahoma.
“If this is true, we will be very disappointed,” the Cowboys statement said. “While we place a premium on history, loyalty and trust, rest assured, we will aggressively defend and advance what is best for Oklahoma State and our strong athletic program, which continues to excel at the Big 12 and national level. keeps.”
The prospect of adding Texas and Oklahoma to the strongest football conference in the country is sure to attract the attention of other Power Five conferences. Especially when the leaders of those leagues want to expand the college football playoffs from four to 12 teams.
Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team to make the playoffs, having done so four times. The path to CFP will be tougher through the SEC but a larger area may provide more paths.
The SEC recently signed a new television deal with ESPN that gives the cable TV sports giant all its rights. It’s not clear whether adding Texas and Oklahoma would give the SEC an opportunity to increase the value of those contracts for all of its members and not just provide enough to cover the excess at the current rate.
The SEC announced earlier this year that it had disbursed approximately $45.5 million to its members. The Big 12 schools received about $10 million less than their convention.
When Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fischer was asked about Texas and Oklahoma’s interest in the SEC during his session with the media at Hoover, he said: “I’m sure they will.”
“Listen, we’ve got the biggest league in the ball,” Fischer said. “I don’t know the choices they make or what they do, but I don’t know how I feel about it.”
AP Sportswriter John Zenor in Hoover, Alabama, contributed to this report.
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