Money Talks: How the SEC lured Texas and Oklahoma away from the Big 12

College football kicked off this past weekend with fantastic matchups and fired-up fans.

Collegiate sports are so exciting because of long-standing rivalries among universities like USC’s very own with our Westwood counterparts, UCLA. Sometimes, these rivalries arise simply due to the fact that the schools are in the same conference or are in close proximity to each other. 

What happens when these programs move to other conferences and significantly change the dynamic they have created all in pursuit of greater profits? 

This is what is happening right now as powerhouse programs Texas and Oklahoma recently announced a shift from the Big 12 to the SEC in 2025. Such decisions have been made in the past, most significantly at the start of the 2010s. 

I remember following Kansas basketball back in elementary and middle school when the Big 12 went through its major conference realignment. From around 2010 to 2013, the Big 12 changed dramatically as schools with historic rivalries with former conference members went to new conferences, fueled by the opportunity to earn more money. Programs like Texas A&M and Missouri left for the SEC and even the Pac-12 added Colorado. 

This isn’t the first time Texas and Oklahoma toyed with the idea of leaving the Big 12. During the early 2010s conference realignment, these two colleges along with Texas Tech and Oklahoma State were strongly considering joining the former Pac-10 (now the Pac-12) but ultimately decided not to because former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe promised revised strategies for increased revenue if they decided to stick together. 

To make up for the losses the Big 12 faced, the conference added schools like TCU and West Virginia. For those who don’t know, the Big 12 is primarily a midwestern conference, so the fact that West Virginia was added significantly alters its geographic makeup. But none of that really matters, since the Big 12 just wanted enough money to stay afloat after this scare.

However, the Longhorns and Sooners have the two highest revenues annually among all the teams in the conference and seem to want more. Typically, one way schools receive funds from the conference comes from the revenue that is evenly split among its members. Playing in the Big 12, each of them received around $34 million in the past year. By joining the SEC, the number jumps all the way up to $60 million per year.

The reason the SEC has much more revenue than other conferences like the Big 12 is simply because of the success they’ve had on the field, particularly in football. Famous programs like Alabama, Georgia and LSU as well as former Big 12 members like Texas A&M consistently compete for the national titles and high-paying bowl games. 

Although there are a range of other sports that the SEC offers, football is the one that constantly brings in the most money. Even though the Big 12 has found success in other sports compared to the SEC, Oklahoma and Texas’ decision is primarily motivated by football prospects. The fact that these two schools will be part of the SEC means better recruits will be attracted to the high-profile matchups potential in the conference. 

One slight hurdle is that Texas has a broadcasting agreement with ESPN for their own Longhorn Network which doesn’t expire until 2031. Since ESPN also has the SEC Network, they might be able to alter the deal. Even Texas’ president Jay Hartzell believes that they will end their network to join the SEC. Technically, Texas and Oklahoma can’t leave until the Big 12 media rights deal runs out in 2025, but there have been talks that the two programs can potentially leave earlier through a buyout. 

With the loss of two major institutions, the Big 12 needs to find a way to revitalize itself. There have been advanced talks to bring in BYU, Houston, UCF and Cincinnati, who have all had success in football and basketball recently, to join the conference and help financially counteract Texas and Oklahoma’s departure.

Even though the prospects of having higher-caliber matchups in conferences such as the SEC might be appealing to fans, it hurts schools in other conferences. In order to maintain the power dynamics as a result of the SEC’s growth, the Big 10, ACC and Pac-12 are forming an alliance to improve the coordination and competitiveness in the NCAA.   

Pratik Thakur is a junior writing about business and its impact in the world of collegiate sports. His column, “Money Talks,” runs every other Wednesday.