According to Brent Zerneman of the Houston Chronicle, Texas and Oklahoma, two of college football’s blue bloods, have inquired about a potential move from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference.
There is no debate that the SEC is the King of College Football. Playing football in the SEC is an absolute cash cow for any athletic department that is lucky enough to spend their Saturdays Down South. Under the conference’s revenue share agreement, each SEC school received $45.5 million last year, whereas, each of the Big 12’s schools only received $34.5 million. In a post-pandemic landscape where athletic departments are scratching and clawing for the extra penny, that $11 million difference could do wonders for any institution (even Texas and their $187 million annual budget).
While the college football world is excited about seeing a renewed Texas vs Texas A&M rivalry every year, there are a lot of legal issues that must be dealt with first. For one, both schools will struggle to reach the requisite votes needed to be added as a member of the conference. Additionally, the Big 12 will fight in court to recoup previous distributions to the schools under the conference’s grant of rights agreement and prevent the institutions from joining its rival.
Need The Votes
The SEC Constitution lays out how the conference members may choose to add another member institution. Under Article 3.1.1, membership to the SEC may only be granted through a vote of at least three-fourths of the conference’s members. Since there are 14 teams in the SEC, a new institution would need the consent of 11 institutions before joining the conference.
One thing is definite, Texas can not count on rival Texas A&M’s vote to join. In a statement to ESPN, Aggie athletic director Ross Bjork said that his athletic department wants to be “the only SEC program in the state of Texas.” The Aggie athletic department recently dethroned their Longhorn neighbors as the most profitable athletic department in the country, mostly thanks to its membership in the SEC. Allowing another Texas institution into the conference would affect their ability to recruit, and ultimately, their bottom line.
Other institutions with strong bases in Texas like Arkansas, LSU, Mizzou, and even Alabama might not want to see the Longhorn machine mess up their current state of affairs. If Texas does not make it past the vote, it is unlikely Oklahoma will jump ship on its arch-rival.
Big (12) Litigation
Oklahoma and Texas bolting would be disastrous for the Big 12. The athletic departments are the machines that keep the lights on at Big 12 HQ. As such, the Big 12 requires each of its institutions to sign a Grant of Rights Agreement.
The terms of the agreement can be found in Section 3 of the Big 12 bylaws. Big 12 members are committed to remaining a member of the conference for 99 years. If a member voluntarily chooses to withdraw from the conference, the withdrawing member must pay the conference a buyout fee that equals the sum of that institution’s distribution for the previous two seasons. Based on Big 12 revenue distributions for the past two years, it is believed that Oklahoma and Texas would each have to pay the conference $72.2 million in their respective buyout fees.
On top of that, any member wishing to leave the Big 12 would also need to pay for the amount of “all actual loss, damage, costs, or expenses” related to the member’s withdrawal. In the end, each school might have to pay over $100 million to leave the Big 12.
Other Legal Implications
Outside the contractual obligations of SEC and Big 12 institutions, there are myriad other legal issues related to Oklahoma and Texas coming to the SEC. As stated before, the SEC is the King of College Football, and two blue bloods migrating over will only increase their dominance. Tulane Sports Law Professor Gabe Feldman noted the potential implications of the move could lead to the potential determination that the conference has market power and, thus, any of their conference level agreements could pose antitrust issues.
While the move to the SEC may seem like a great idea for these programs, their athletes in the age of NIL, and the college football fans around the country, Oklahoma and Texas have some legal hurdles to jump through before the Red Rivalry Rivalry happens on a Saturday Down South.