UT-Austin, U of Oklahoma accept SEC’s membership invitation

UPDATE: July 30, 2021: The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Oklahoma on Friday accepted the Southeastern Conference’s membership invitation. Both universities will depart the Big 12 for the SEC in the 2025-2026 academic year. 

University of Oklahoma Athletics Director Joe Castiglione said in a statement that the move will bring the institution “the exposure it deserves.” The University of Texas System Chancellor James Milliken likewise described the departure as a way to ensure “a strong future” for UT-Austin’s student-athletes and sports programs.

UPDATE: July 27, 2021: The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Oklahoma asked the Southeastern Conference on Tuesday for an invitation that would have them joining the league July 1, 2025. The move confirms reports that the two universities were planning to depart the Big 12 Conference for the SEC.

“We believe that there would be mutual benefit to the Universities on the one hand, and the SEC on the other hand, for the Universities to become members,” they wrote in their letter to SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. 

Dive Brief:

  • The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Oklahoma jointly announced Monday that they will not renew their media rights with the Big 12 Conference when they expire in 2025, signaling their likely intent to leave the league. 

  • The moves would deal a major blow to the conference, which was reportedly considering changes to give the schools a bigger annual payout as a way to dissuade them from leaving for the lucrative Southeastern Conference. 

  • The possible Big 12 departures have drawn local opposition. Around three dozen Texas lawmakers filed a bill last week that would effectively stop the University of Texas at Austin from leaving the Big 12. 

Dive Insight: 

If UT-Austin and the U of Oklahoma left the Big 12, it would make major waves in college athletics — especially football. In their statement, the two schools said they intend to honor their existing rights agreement but plan to “monitor the rapidly evolving collegiate athletics landscape as they consider how best to position their athletics programs for the future.”

Media reports have said they may leave for the Southeastern Conference. Their addition would make the SEC the only league with 16 teams.

The two universities are also among the biggest brands in college football. UT-Austin’s football revenue nearly reached $147 million during the 2019-20 academic year, while the U of Oklahoma’s team brought in $96 million in revenue in 2016-17, according to media reports.

Their announcement comes as colleges are already responding to seismic shifts in athletics. The NCAA recently released interim guidance allowing student-athletes to profit off use of their names, images and likenesses, kickstarting an arms race among schools to help them land endorsement deals.

Their plans have also drawn the ire of some legislators. Texas lawmakers introduced a bill last week barring state colleges from switching athletic conferences unless the legislature’s two chambers approve of the change.

However, the move is largely symbolic, The Texas Tribune reported. The lawmakers proposed the bill during a special legislative session, which only allows consideration of bills on the governor’s agenda.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, did not list the issue on his agenda. Even if he does add the item to his list, the legislature currently has too few lawmakers to hold votes because a group of Democrats have left the state to block a Republican voting bill.

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