Live updates: Oklahoma and Texas conference realignment rumors, SEC expansion and what it would mean for the Big 12


ACC and SEC media days overlapped on Wednesday. The Big Ten gets its media days started on Thursday.

As it turns out, however, much of the talk during the official start of talking season surrounds a conference that got its media days out of the way last week: the Big 12.

The potential bombshell dropped shortly after 3:30 ET Wednesday, when the Houston Chronicle reported that Oklahoma and Texas had reached out to the SEC about joining the conference.

Almost immediately, denials, non-denials and “I don’t knows” echoed throughout both Birmingham, Ala., and Charlotte, N.C., the respective sites of SEC and ACC media days.

Throw this news — however serious it might be — on top of what has already been a groundbreaking summer for college athletics, and suddenly so much of what has been publicly discussed for the future could be thrown into chaos.

A 12-team College Football Playoff, for one, would look significantly different with one of the Power 5 conferences down its two biggest breadwinners. There are other potential implications, too, be it the birth of a superconference in the SEC or a potential leverage play for the ACC — or something else entirely. — Matt Fortuna

Latest realignment analysis and reaction

Oklahoma and Texas decline to comment on reports of their interest in joining SEC

Texas: “Speculation swirls around collegiate athletics. We will not address rumors or speculation.”

Oklahoma:“The college athletics landscape is shifting constantly. We don’t address every anonymous rumor.”

Explaining the far-reaching fallout of conference realignment and its impact across the sport

A Texas and Oklahoma move to SEC could outrage Texas A&M, but that’s just part of the far-reaching realignment fallout

My story on yesterday’s bombshell and all the moving parts, with reporting assists from my ⁦@TheAthleticCFB⁩ colleagues: https://t.co/8YPDD3plkx

— Sam Khan Jr. (@skhanjr) July 22, 2021

What you should expect from the realignment rollercoaster 

If history is any indication, coverage of the potential moves could get pretty wild.

Conference Realignment is back!

Do you need a refresher course??

I wrote an FAQ about Texas, Oklahoma, the SEC and how to navigate the next several weeks (months?) of wild rumors.https://t.co/jntgZjXNne

— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) July 22, 2021

Big 12 blindsided by the report

In the Big 12, everyone was getting along. Their board and ADs got through 2020 by working together. The animosity and leadership schisms of a decade ago were thought to be in the past.

Clearly, peacetime has come to an end. https://t.co/fURGcskfrQ

— Max Olson (@max_olson) July 22, 2021

Potential for political roadblocks

As news broke about Oklahoma’s possible desire to move to the SEC, a common misunderstanding resurfaced on social media regarding the Oklahoma state legislature and its role. The Oklahoma state legislature holds no authority regarding the athletics conference of state schools. The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University are governed independently by the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents and the OSU/A&M Board of Regents, respectively.

Chad Alexander is the former Oklahoma Republican Party chairman and lobbied for the University of Oklahoma during the last round of conference realignment talks. He emphasized in a phone interview Wednesday that a lot has changed in the last 10 years. Term limits mean the legislature and boards of regents are filled with new faces. Longtime presidents David Boren (OU) and Burns Hargis (OSU) have both retired, with Hargis’ retirement coming just this month.

During the 2011 realignment talks, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were attached at the hip. Any deal sending the Sooners to the conceptual Pac-16 would have included the Cowboys. Much of that was due to Boren, both because of his relationship with Hargis, and because of Boren’s general philosophy that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State should compete in the same conference.

Joseph Harroz Jr., the current OU president, worked many years for Boren, but his philosophy on that subject is unclear.

Oklahoma State’s fiery statement Wednesday after news broke is a sign of just how important it is to remain attached to the Sooners — and also indicates that it might not feel protected in any legal sense should OU decide to make a move.

Still, expect there to be significant political pressure from state lawmakers with ties to Oklahoma State. It’s also worth noting that Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is an Oklahoma State alumnus, although he hasn’t made any public statements about this situation.

Alexander and other sources told The Athletic that even if the state legislature were to pass a law mandating that OU and OSU remain in the same conference and even if the governor signed it, it probably wouldn’t hold up in court because of the way university governance is arranged in the state. — Jason Kersey

Texas A&M’s on-the-record objection to the potential moves

"We love being the only school in the state of Texas in the SEC…we're going to maintain that position, but we're also going to make sure that we're a leader in college athletics and we'll see what the future holds."

-Aggie AD Ross Bjork weighs in on Texas and Oklahoma pic.twitter.com/BcGI8Pz1Xp

— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) July 21, 2021

Texas A&M is the only school so far whose officials have offered any definitive on-the-record opinion about this possibility. Athletic director Ross Bjork made it quite clear Wednesday that Texas A&M wants to be the only SEC school in the Lone Star State. The move to break from the Big 12 also was a move to differentiate the program. Bjork reiterated this to me Wednesday night on the phone just before he and Texas A&M’s contingent took off after spending Wednesday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

But if you’re the SEC, how do you say no to adding two megabrands to an already stacked catalogue? The league needs 11 schools to vote yes to extend invitations to expand, and it’s unclear who else would be willing to vote no besides Texas A&M. Former Big 12 member Missouri? Former Southwest Conference member Arkansas? Maybe. The timing of the leak of the news seems to be an attempt to slow a very fast train. — Andy Staples

The rest of the Big 12 reacts

Talking to Big 12 sources today, I expected to hear fury and vitriol. But the initial reaction was more puzzlement than anything else.

Why would OU and Texas leave? Why now?

On the Big 12’s realignment blindside: https://t.co/HLKFDGu4DI

— Max Olson (@max_olson) July 22, 2021

This current iteration of the Big 12’s board has been by all accounts quite collegial in nature. This group worked together with commissioner Bob Bowlsby to save the league’s football season last August, coming to agreement on a plan to stay the course despite their differing viewpoints. The animosity and leadership schisms of a decade ago in the heat of realignment mania, which devolved into fears, threats and departures, were thought to be long in the past. And Oklahoma president Joseph Harroz and Texas president Jay Hartzell are basically the newcomers in the room, as both were elevated to those roles from interim status in 2020.

Alas, peacetime in this league has likely come to an end. And Oklahoma, Texas and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey responding with no denials and no comment only reinforces the suspicion among conference peers that this is more than just a little smoke. — Max Olson

What would need to happen for new schools to be admitted to the SEC?

Here is the SEC bylaw on extending an invitation to expand.

In a 14-team league, 11 "yes" votes are needed to expand. pic.twitter.com/p8wCOGy6DL

— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) July 21, 2021

SEC bylaws being what they are, 11 of the 14 current schools would need to confirm the addition of a new member. Reality being what it is, the conference wouldn’t want expansion to pass by the skin of an 11-3 vote. The league put on a united front under the late, great commissioner Mike Slive and the vibe has continued under Greg Sankey. That’s because the SEC really takes care of its members, offering granite-solid stability and mega earnings.

If Texas A&M, Arkansas and Mizzou vigorously objected to Texas and Oklahoma joining the league, their voices would carry weight. Schools like LSU, Alabama and Florida also stand to face a tougher time recruiting the state of Texas if the Longhorns get to flash the SEC brand. Ultimately, there may be financial incentives too massive to ignore in realignment — and fans of the Razorbacks and Aggies actually might welcome the rebirth of rivalries. Whatever the outcome, Sankey will work to insure a consensus. — G. Allan Taylor

Adding Texas and Oklahoma could solve some of the SEC’s current scheduling issues

If the SEC added Texas and Oklahoma there would be plenty of big issues to address, but one would be easy: The division setup. In fact, it would solve a lot of the conference’s current scheduling dilemmas.

Texas and Oklahoma would join the West, obviously, but Missouri could join them, and along with Arkansas you’d have a mini-Big Eight/Southwest Conference reunion. Then you move Alabama and Auburn to the East, evening up the divisions, as well as solving a scheduling headache: Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia, currently a pair of cross-division annual rivalries, are now regular division games. Voila!

Or the SEC could get even more creative, and go to four divisions or pods, which would allow more scheduling flexibility. Right now the conference, wedded to division-based scheduling, has too many teams that rarely face each other: Georgia has yet to visit Texas A&M, for instance, since the Aggies joined the league in 2012. If each team only has three permanent opponents and then rotates the other five, that isn’t a problem anymore. In fact, it’s a much better solution than two eight-team divisions — or the current two seven-team divisions.

It may not be the sole reason to add Texas and Oklahoma, but it’s a nice byproduct. — Seth Emerson

What would adding Texas and Oklahoma mean for SEC recruiting?

At the moment, Texas high school stars have only one in-state option if they wanted to stay home and play in the SEC: Texas A&M.

More SEC options within the region means the Aggies would lose their Lone Star State edge.

Wasserman: Texas A&M’s recruiting nightmare — Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC

via @TheAthletic https://t.co/EzCnRU24np

— Ari Wasserman (@AriWasserman) July 22, 2021

Group of 5 reaction

I asked Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson if the Texas/Oklahoma news and upcoming conference TV deals could lead to another wave of conference realignment.

“Texas, Oklahoma, potentially could be a tipping point,” he said.

Like everyone else, Thompson didn’t know much about the news other than what he heard from associates when the report dropped.

“I’ve had a couple commissioner friends ask for a chance to talk and compare notes. It’s normal business. We’re all reading this stuff like, ‘What the heck, what do you know about this?’” — Chris Vannini

(Top photo: Andrew Dieb / USA TODAY Sports)

Get all-access to exclusive stories.

Subscribe to The Athletic for ad-free, in-depth coverage of your favorite players, teams, leagues and clubs. Try a week on us.

START FREE TRIAL