Texas and OU Are the Match That Lit the Fire, What's Next for CFB Realignment?

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterJuly 27, 2021

The SEC logo is displayed at the Hyatt Regency hotel, site of the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days, Monday, July 19, 2021, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/Associated Press

By the time you read this, a new press release will likely have been issued. A new board of regents meeting will have been called. A president of a university will vehemently bemoan the actions of others, threaten legal recourse and pretend all is well even though, for many, all is not well.

Yes, realignment is once again back in our lives. And yes, the impact on the sport of college football will be far more significant than two programs changing conference affiliations.

This has a chance to be the shakeup many assumed we were getting more than a decade ago—a tipping point for teams searching for long-term stability and conferences doing whatever possible to strategically grow and avoid consolidation.

Here's what we know. Texas and Oklahoma have told the Big 12 that they will not be renewing their grants of media rights that are set to expire in 2025. We assume, based off recent reports, that this exit will be followed by a move to the SEC.

Translation: The end of the Big 12 could be near.  

Roger Steinman/Associated Press

Whether that exit occurs in 2025 or not is a fascinating piece of the storyline to follow moving forward, and let it be known the lawyers on all sides will have plenty to say about that. But the speculation that had mounted over the past week about a departure to the SEC—starting with a report by Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle that originally broke the news—took on a new reality in the joint statement released on Monday. 

While the move to the SEC hasn't been officially confirmed, the dots are being connected in real time. For a conference that already has so much going for it, especially in football, adding two massive brands with a long history of tradition and accolades is victory. Well, except if you're Texas A&M.

Sure, cracks about the Longhorns' record over the past 10 years and Oklahoma's playoff woes will be regurgitated, but this is a good business decision for a conference that knows what good business looks like.

For Texas and Oklahoma, this is great business. It can be difficult to see beyond the competitive impact and the long-term ramifications of both programs having beefed up schedules in the future, although the positive impact on finances along with recruiting could be extraordinary.

The marriage is easy and convenient for all parties. The breakup is messy. And the fallout is potentially considerable. What happens next as a result of these two moves could and likely will reshape the future of collegiate athletics.

Michael Thomas/Associated Press

The Big 12, of course, will actively try to avoid a public panic. As the news of its likely soon-to-be former programs circulated on Monday, the conference responded with a statement of its own.

"Although our eight members are disappointed with the decisions of these two institutions, we recognize that intercollegiate athletics is experiencing rapid change and will most likely look much different in 2025 than it does currently," Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. "The Big 12 Conference will continue to support our member institutions' efforts to graduate student-athletes, and compete for Big 12 and NCAA championships."

Translation: If you're a Big 12 school, you should be panicking.

The impact of this decision on the Big 12 is seismic. With the inevitable departure of the conference's two flagship programs, the impact from a financial and reputational sense could ultimately be catastrophic.

It is possible and perhaps even likely, according to CBS Sports, that the Big 12 could see a massive reduction in its television deal moving forward as a result of lost membership—a kind of financial plunder that could send the remaining members of the conference into disarray.

In many ways, this panic should feel familiar. The last time realignment surfaced in the summer of 2010, we nearly reached this breaking point. Oklahoma and Texas were once again the fixture of the discussions, and the Pac-12 nearly became the Pac-16.

While the Sooners and Longhorns ultimately stayed put—and the Longhorn Network was birthed—we still saw plenty of movement. Colorado moved to the Pac-12. Nebraska moved to the Big Ten. Utah joined a Power Five conference. And the Big 12 was reshaped when Missouri and Texas A&M exited, only to be replaced by West Virginia and TCU.

And that's not all. The threat of change started a sequence of events. It created a rush—the same raw emotions and concern flowing through the country right now.

It was an earthquake, but it wasn't the earthquake. That moment could be coming.

And if it does, this is no longer simply a Big 12 discussion. The Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, AAC, Mountain West and others could be active.

Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

Let's fall down the rabbit hole, shall we?

Does the Big 12 replace Texas and Oklahoma with Houston and Cincinnati? It seems like a viable backup plan given the desperation. You replenish one Texas team with another and add a program that has been plenty competitive in football.

Oh, this doesn't square things up. No move or moves can do that. But in trying to survive, this could at least help negate some loss. And maybe the Big 12 doesn't stop at two.

Does the Big Ten pick off two teams it likes in the Big 12? Iowa State and Kansas make plenty of sense, at least from the outside.

Or maybe the conference, sensing a much larger shift, targets Pac-12 schools as a way to increase an already mobile footprint. All options should be on the table, including doing nothing, for a conference that is plenty stable. 

Does the Pac-12 finally become the Pac-16? It tried 10 years ago. How about now? While the conference has had its own struggles in recent years, it could ultimately add new markets by grabbing teams like Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, TCU and others. 

Ralph Freso/Associated Press

On the topic of expansion, the American Athletic Conference along with the Mountain West will certainly explore to do the same. The scraps to some could be desirable for others.  

Or how about Notre Dame? The Irish, coming off a temporary stay in the ACC, will always be a coveted piece. In fact, few would be more coveted. Could this be a moment that propels the Irish to the Big Ten or the ACC? Or will they simply stay the course as (largely) an independent program and steer clear of the madness? 

And finally, are we sure the SEC is truly done? Amid the buffet of possibilities that have circulated in my text messages over the past five days is the hypothesis that Oklahoma and Texas might not be the only programs the conference has discussed.

If that is the case, the magnitude of potential shakeups grows even larger. For those who enjoy chaos of the highest level, this is perhaps the stash where the largest amount of realignment dynamite is housed. 

For all the possibilities, one thing is clear. Texas and Oklahoma are not the end. They are likely the beginning. And the one thing that generates activity more than anything in college athletics is money.

For many, that money is being threatened. For others, there is the possibility for even more. These two mindsets intersect at a place of great discomfort for the sport—a series of outcomes in which all parties simply look out for the betterment of themselves.

Whether this is good for the long-term health of college football will be determined. At the moment, the priorities have shifted for those involved. 

This is about survival and television contracts and access to the playoff. Plain and simple. The stakes are enormous, the decisions and reactions are no longer simply about business, and the likely outcomes could alter everything.

Buckle up.


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