As you’ve probably heard by now, the Houston Chronicle dropped an absolute bombshell yesterday. According to Texas A&M beat reporter Brent Zwerneman, those in power at Texas and Oklahoma have been reaching out to the SEC to inquire about leaving the Big 12 for greener pastures.
The ramifications of such a move are massive. This would effectively mean the death of the Big 12, at least as a power conference, and be the catalyst for a “Power 4”. The SEC would swell to 16 teams, and at that point would have some serious questions to answer about division alignment and scheduling. Other programs may look to find a new home to maintain power conference status as well, as this would further the divide between programs in a power conference versus those in the Group of 5 (or 6?).
The questions such a move would raise are numerous, as well. When would this actually take place? What’s the process for making this happen? Would any other Big 12 schools find a new home in other P4 conferences? Would the other conferences even want to expand? How would this affect the proposed 12 team playoff? What happens to the SEC divisions? And most importantly, is this good for Auburn?
I’m no expert or insider, but I’ll do my best to sort through this (incredibly exciting) mess.
When would this actually take place?
While it’s certainly possible this could move quickly and be a thing that’s ready to go for the 2022 season, I don’t think that’s the likely outcome. Common across all conferences, teams are usually required to sign away their “grant of media rights” to the conference in order to be a member. This means that the media rights for a school’s games belong to the conference, although the schools still see a nice paycheck from the conference office every year regardless. This allows the conference to negotiate tv deals with networks as a package, instead of schools being on their own.
In the Big 12, Texas and Oklahoma have their grant of rights locked in with the conference until after the 2024-25 season. I don’t know if there are any potential “buy-out” clauses, but rumors have stated that the schools intend to inform the conference they don’t plan on re-upping after the current contract. This would set the stage for them to leave the conference, as it would be too cost-prohibitive for them to do so earlier.
All that being said, this would mean the two schools could potentially be in the SEC starting in the 2025 football season.
What’s the process for making this happen?
It seems like a pretty straight-forward process for Texas and Oklahoma to leave the Big 12, but it gets a little trickier trying to get into the SEC. While the commissioner's office would love to add two of the top 10 brands in college athletics, the SEC commish Greg Sankey works to serve the member schools, not the other way around.
For the conference to add new member schools, it requires a 75% or higher vote of “yes” from the current member schools. Currently at 14 teams, that means 11 schools would have to vote in favor of expansion to bring in the Longhorns and Sooners.
This will certainly be a contentious process over the next several months/years. While it would certainly be a net gain for the SEC as a whole, not every program is likely to be on board. Texas A&M of course has significant bad blood with not-a-rival Texas, and would likely vote no. Fellow 2012 realignment-mate Missouri left the Big 12 specifically to get away from Texas, and it’s quite possible they would be against expanding. Then, there’s programs like LSU and Arkansas. While they don’t specifically have issues with Texas and Oklahoma, adding those two into the SEC would encroach further into that Texas recruiting ground that both teams take advantage of.
If Texas A&M were to form a coalition against expansion, they could very easily get to the four votes they need to shut everything down. I have absolutely no idea how idea how this will turn out in the near future, but rest assured there will be drama.
Would any other Big 12 schools find a new home in other P4 conferences? Would the other conferences even want to expand?
Let’s say the vote goes through, and the two premier programs in the Big 12 are gone. Where does that leave the other eight teams? I have some guesses, but it’s far from clear. Much depends on the willingness of other conference to expand.
- Baylor - Despite only recently leaving doormat status in football, Baylor is a solid athletics program, evidenced by their men’s basketball title this year and three women’s titles in the last 15 years. If the Pac 12 wants to expand into Texas, it starts with the Bears.
- Iowa State - Let’s just say it’s a good thing they’ve seen a nice bump in the prestige of their football program of late. Iowa State will likely be clawing at the Big 10 for membership with in-state rival Iowa, but it’s anyone’s guess if the conference would go for adding another farm school.
- Kansas - This is the easiest answer of this group. Despite being the worst power conference football program in the country, they’re a basketball blue blood. The Big 10 would love to add the Jayhawks.
- Kansas State - I’m not sure there’s a path for the Wildcats to maintain power conference status, unfortunately. They aren’t a prestigious on-field program, and the school itself is just fine. Geographically they aren’t a fit for anyone. They would likely try to link up with the other Big 12 outcasts, whether that’s in a not-power Big 12 corpse or possibly an expanding AAC.
- Oklahoma State - Similar to Kansas State, I’m not sure the represent a good add for any of the power conferences. Perhaps they could work their way into an expanding Pac 12, but I think other programs would be above them in the pecking order.
- TCU - Another program that I think may join the Pac 12. The Horned Frogs aren’t a dominant athletic program by any stretch, but they’re in a major market, and have been a generally competent football program since they joined the power conference ranks in 2012.
- Texas Tech - Another program hung out to dry. If they can’t join the Pac 12, which I’m not sure they could, they’d likely be a nice addition for the AAC.
- West Virginia - Despite the geographic fit, I get the vibe the ‘eers wouldn’t be the top choice for the Big 12. Instead, I could see West Virginia become the ACC’s expansion pick.
If the SEC goes to 16 teams and kills the Big 12, there will be an immediate pressure on the other power conferences to keep up. How could they get to 16 teams?
- Big 10 - I think you could see the Big 10 expand to 16 teams to match the SEC, and they would likely poach from the Big 12 collapse to do so. Kansas is the clear choice, but I don’t know where they go for 16. Iowa State makes the most sense, but West Virginia or Louisville are better geographic fits. Of course, Notre Dame would be the best fit, but I don’t think that happens.
- Pac 12 - For the longest time, the rumor was that Texas may lead a coalition of Big 12 teams into the Pac 12. With that off the table, the Pac 12 is in desperate need of more national appeal. They could look to grab the “best of the rest” and set up a presence in Texas, with some combination of four of Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU, Houston, and SMU. Oklahoma State would like to get in on this expansion, but I’m not sure the Pac 12 has much reason to add them.
- ACC - There’s not an immediate need to expand for the ACC, but there is one program in Appalachia that would be a perfect fit. West Virginia would fit well with Louisville, Pitt (Backyard Brawl back!), and Virginia Tech nearby. Who is team 16, though? The ACC would love to lock up Notre Dame, but conferences have been trying to climb that mountain for 70 odd years. If they can’t get the Irish, maybe UCF, UAB, or Appalachian State could be picked up from the G5?
- AAC - This move would mark the official death of the AAC becoming a power conference, because it’s just simply too neat to have four power conferences. However, they could look to become the clear cut “best of the rest” and form a super conference of exisiting members, standout programs from other G5’s, and the scraps of the Big 12. Programs like Boise State, Louisiana Tech, UAB, Colorado State, and Army could be good additions. They will have to be wary of being poached by the Pac-12 or ACC, however.
What happens to the SEC divisions?
This is the multi-million dollar question. The simplest answer is to move Auburn and Alabama to the SEC East, Missouri to the West with Texas and OU, and call it good. The schedule would likely go to 9 games, meaning each team would play 7 division games plus two cross-division games, with no permanent rivals. This would maintain most of the important rivalries (AU/Bama, AU/UGA, and Bama/Tennessee, namely) that have hampered SEC divisions for the last decade.
However, this means you would only play each cross-division opponent two out of every 14 seasons, and would only host them once in that span. Not much of a conference, if you ask me.
Pods have been a hot topic the last few years, mainly only discussed as a hypothetical too drastic to actually implement. However, with 16 teams, the math just makes sense. Within the East/West split, you would further divide into four groups of four.
- SEC West 1 - Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri
- SEC West 2 - Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State
- SEC East 1 - Florida, UGA, South Carolina, Kentucky
- SEC East 2 - Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Each team would play three “pod” games, and two opponents from each other pod for a nine game schedule. The winner of each pod plays in a conference semifinal, and the those winners play in a conference championship game.
In this model, even traditional rivals that are split up (Auburn/UGA, Alabama/LSU, etc) are still played every other year, if not more in conference playoffs. You would end up hosting every conference opponent at least once every four years. It’s not perfect, but I think it might be the best available option.
And most importantly, is this good for Auburn?
I’ll answer your question with a question - Is the expanded playoff still on the table? If so, I think the answer is unequivocally yes. Auburn has been in a uniquely bad place the last decade, playing the hardest schedule in the SEC every year with UGA locked in as a permanent opponent. This realignment evens out the East/West divide, and with the expanded playoff, Auburn could theoretically only need to finish third or fourth in the conference to make the postseason.
There’s a whole other question to be asked about how this may affect basketball scheduling, but I’ll leave that for another day. In the mean time, I recommend popping some popcorn, sitting back, propping up your feet, and enjoying the dramedy of the next half-decade.