In the summer of 1990, Frank Broyles was pondering a move that would send shockwaves through the college football world.
The former Arkansas athletic director was tired of dwindling attendance at conference rivals’ games and being the only school in the former Southwestern Conference outside the state of Texas, a status the Hogs had held since 1925.
So Broyles and other Arkansas officials were considering a move to the more lucrative SEC, even though there would likely be a competitive price to pay.
Although the Arkansas football was coming off back-to-back SWC titles, that success probably wouldn’t transfer to the SEC. Racking up more losses was a real likelihood, former Arkansas football head coach Jack Crowe told Broyles.
“Frank asked me, “Jack, what would you think about us going to the SEC?,'” Crowe recalled in an ESPN.com feature.
“I told him, ‘Let me tell you something, Frank: We have a hard time beating Texas here.'”
“‘There’s five Texases over there. Five.'”
Broyles and other Arkansas football brass decided to make the move anyway. On July 30, 1990, he announced Arkansas was accepting the SEC’s invitation, making the Razorbacks the first major conference school to move conferences and ushering in the modern era of realignment.
That move, one of Broyles’ most important legacies, spurred a firestorm of rumors about other big schools leaving their conferences to join Arkansas in the SEC.
“I was told that Texas and Texas A&M were coming with us, along with Florida State,” Crowe recalled.
“[Former SEC commissioner] Roy Kramer was going for the whole enchilada now. He was going for all the television markets because that’s all it was about. It was about television.”
“It was about going to get the TV contract and sharing the revenue.”
It’s all a Cycle: Texas, Oklahoma to SEC
There isn’t much new under the sun, is there?
Fast forward 31 years, and we’re back to a very similar place.
On Wednesday, a Houston Chronicle report cited multiple sources claiming Oklahoma and Texas were on the cusp of announcing a move to the SEC.
There are a few reasons why this makes sense for these two huge programs to leave the Big 12 and why the SEC would welcome them.
Foremost is TV revenue.
“The SEC earned $728.9 million in the 2020 fiscal year — roughly $300 million more than the Big 12’s reported earnings ($409.2 million),” according to the Sporting News.
“That difference, coupled with the SEC’s new deal with ESPN — which is estimated to pay more than $300 million annually to the conference and is scheduled to go into effect in 2024 — would be alluring for any outside teams looking to cash in on the SEC’s popularity.”
The TV revenue that Texas and Oklahoma would bring in would significantly expand the financial pie for all SEC teams.
“If Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC, it will be the AFC, the NFC and the SEC,” said Vince Thompson, chairman and CEO of Atlanta-based sports marketing agency MELT.
“Other than the NBA (and NFL), it will be third-most powerful sports entity in North America.”
“SEC schools currently get $42 million to $46 million each from the league’s annual distribution,” the Atlanta Constitution-Journal’s Chip Towers wrote.
“Thompson sees that number rising to maybe $60 to $80 million with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma when also factoring in additional revenues from bowls and the College Football Playoff.”
There’s another big reason for the SEC to welcome Oklahoma and Texas with open arms: If he doesn’t, another major conference will.
“The SEC became the biggest guy on the street because they went out and picked [new members] very well and they have such a serious and passionate fan base,” Paul Finebaum says in the below video.
“But if you’re the commissioner of the SEC, Greg Sankey, do you want Texas and Oklahoma going to the Big 10 or the ACC or someone else?”
“Suddenly you start challenging your position as king of the hill. So I think that’s a big motivating factor.”
Both programs could contend for College Football Playoff berths in the coming years, too, but has advantages for the entire conference. Oklahoma, a strong national title contender in 2021 according to betting affiliates partners 1xBet, should be especially strong in the short term.
At this point, it’s a given that the College Football Playoffs will eventually expand. If the expansion is to 12 teams, seeing 6 to 7 SEC teams make it in one year from a conference including the Longhorns and Sooner is very possible.
Why Arkansas Would Block Texas, Oklahoma to the SEC
Eleven of the SEC’s 14 members must approve entry of new members to the conference.
So if four presidents or chancellors of four schools vote to block the move Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, it won’t happen.
Texas A&M and Missouri are “hard no’s,” says Kirk Bohls, the longtime sports columnist for the Austin American-Statesman.
That makes sense. From 1996 to 2011, Missouri and Texas A&M had been part of the Big 12 alongside Texas and Oklahoma. Like Arkansas in the early 1990s, they left in part to escape the Longhorns’ outsized influence on conference politics.
Both programs would lose some recruiting foothold in the state of Texas if they let the Longhorns joined the SEC. Even with Texas A&M in the SEC, the state is still “Big 12 country.” The Longhorns joining the SEC would change that.
Beyond recruiting dynamics, there’s just plan old old-fashioned dislike.
Arkansas football fans aren’t the only ones who have built up a distaste of Texas arrogance over the years.
“Texas has a reputation across college football for its unbridled arrogance. Oklahoma is nearly as cocky, but has more rings to back up their case,” Rivals’ Mark Passwaters writes.
“Either way, they’re not going to be able to push around member institutions in the SEC like they would the Big 12. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU and A&M aren’t going to stand for it.”
“Basically, Texas and OU will need to humble themselves and realize they’re part of a larger group, not the drivers of a big bus with two big wheels and eight little ones. Texas, especially, will have to mend a lot of fences to get the support needed to get into the conference.”
Arkansas checks off most of the same boxes for blocking a move from Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC as Texas A&M and Missouri do.
That’s why Passwaters mostly predicts Arkansas will be a third blocking SEC member.
“From what I’ve gathered, A&M and Mizzou (recent Big 12 defectors) are no’s. I 100% expect Arkansas to be a no as well,” he tweeted.
He then adds a potential fourth blocking team: “And former A&M AD Scott Woodward, who has no love lost for Texas, is now at LSU.”
The Austin-Statesman’s Cedric Golden also doesn’t see Arkansas allowing entry.
“Arkansas and Missouri aren’t big dogs in SEC football,” Golden tweeted.
“The Aggies have improved, pocketed some $$ and gotten plenty of mileage off the SEC rep since leaving Texas’ shadow. None of these schools have a reason to welcome Texas and Oklahoma.”
Some insiders are dubious about the motives at play in allowing news about this move to leak.
“This is all a leverage move. It leaked today in part cause Texas wanted to take away from Texas A&M media day,” tweeted ESPN+ broadcaster Eric Lopez.
However, Lopez does see things coming to an actual vote: “Look for LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Missouri among many from SEC to block this “move” from OU-Texas.”
Let’s say only three members vote to block the move, however.
That still may be enough, writes G. Allan Taylor of The Athletic:
“….The conference wouldn’t want expansion to pass by the skin of an 11-3 vote. The league put on a united front under the late, great commissioner Mike Slive and the vibe has continued under Greg Sankey. That’s because the SEC really takes care of its members, offering granite-solid stability and mega earnings.”
“If Texas A&M, Arkansas and Mizzou vigorously objected to Texas and Oklahoma joining the league, their voices would carry weight. Schools like LSU, Alabama and Florida also stand to face a tougher time recruiting the state of Texas if the Longhorns get to flash the SEC brand.””
“Ultimately, there may be financial incentives too massive to ignore in realignment — and fans of the Razorbacks and Aggies actually might welcome the rebirth of rivalries.”
“Whatever the outcome, Sankey will work to insure a consensus.”
And the fine folks at SEC Shorts have worked to insure we get at least one hilarious video out of this whole thing:
New Divisions in a Texas, Oklahoma to SEC Move
No doubt, a rekindling of the Texas vs Arkansas rivalry would be one positive in such a move.
Sam Pittman isn’t even thinking beyond the next iteration of that longstanding rivalry — the Hogs’ second game of the 2021 season.
When asked during the 2021 SEC Media Days what he thought about the prospect of OU and Texas heading to the SEC, he said:
“I’ll be honest with you, I really haven’t thought about that much. I’m so nervous about the schedule we have coming up and all that, I haven’t paid much attention about it.”
“But I will say this, I know we’re going to play Texas this year. We play them September 11th and we’re very excited for that. And I apologize, I really haven’t thought about it much.”
With Texas and Oklahoma moving into the SEC West, expect Alabama and Auburn to move to the SEC East and create a division with Florida and Georgia that would make the Battle of Stalingrad look like a walk in the park.
Here’s the breakdown most analysts expect to see play out:
New SEC West: Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M
New SEC East: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt
For Arkansas, the SEC West doesn’t get any easier. But at least the rivalry with Texas would be historic and fun. And there’s more potential for a great Oklahoma-Arkansas rivalry than what we currently see with Auburn-Arkansas.
That’s especially true in basketball, even if football is still a few years away.
“This offseason the Sooners and Longhorns upgraded their head coaching positions with Chris Beard (Texas) and Porter Moser (Oklahoma),” ArkansasFight.com’s Jacob Davis writes. “Both teams have made deep NCAA Tournament runs in recent seasons. That in its own would give the SEC an elite fraternity of current men’s basketball coaches.”
“Under Eric Musselman, Arkansas could continue to rise as a national and SEC power.”
“If Texas and Oklahoma both join it would make the SEC very top heavy. Also, the conference could see eight to nine NCAA Tournament bids each season.”
Seth Emerson of The Athletic sees the possibility of four four-team divisions, or pods, that allow more scheduling flexibility.
“Right now the conference, wedded to division-based scheduling, has too many teams that rarely face each other: Georgia has yet to visit Texas A&M, for instance, since the Aggies joined the league in 2012.”
“If each team only has three permanent opponents and then rotates the other five, that isn’t a problem anymore. In fact, it’s a much better solution than two eight-team divisions — or the current two seven-team divisions.”
UPDATE: SEC EXPANSION
News breaking in the last few days has favored the likelihood of Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC.
Over the weekend, Texas A&M’s athletic director, Ross Bjork, said “We’re ready” when discussing Oklahoma and Texas as potential new members to the SEC.
As for when the SEC expansion would happen, here’s what former Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner’s sources have told him:
The Athletic learned that Texas and Oklahoma have been discussing this move with the SEC and ESPN for months.
“I’m not surprised by Texas, but I’m really disappointed by the way OU has handled this,” one Big 12 AD said. “They’ve participated in all our meetings without saying a single word.”
“I think this has been going on for six months — at a minimum of probably three months — and ESPN has been right in the middle of it.”
If this is true, it seems more likely that SEC athletic directors knew this was coming to the pipeline, and that SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has a good idea that he can get the necessary votes to pass SEC expansion.
There is still an outside chance that Oklahoma and Texas choose to stay in the Big 12.
“Big 12 officials have discussed a structure in which Texas and Oklahoma would receive additional revenue shares as a way of enticing the two schools to remain in the conference rather than pursue a future in the SEC,” CBS Sports reported.
“Such a structure would grant the Longhorns and Sooners an additional half-share annually (1.5 shares each), bumping their payouts to approximately $56 million per year.”
“The other eight schools would decrease their payouts accordingly. Big 12 schools currently average $37 million in annual TV rights earnings, including revenue from bowl games and the NCAA Tournament.”
Still, given the surging forces at play and current appetite for realignment, such an offer at this point seems a bit like the little Dutch boy trying to stop a flood by sticking his thumb in the dam.
Barstool Sports’ Jack McGuire Tweeted: “SEC has been in serious contact with Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson, and Florida State. Not clear if this will materialize, but they have their eyes on a true 20 team MEGA conference.”
And here’s what Georgia reporter Graham Coffey Tweeted:
“Text from an SEC source with knowledge of the inner workings of the league office… ‘A couple more dominoes fall and we’re in a situation where the SEC could become its own division.’
‘More teams have reached out than what’s being reported. 20-24 within the realm of possibility.’”
It’s not surprising that the SEC is trying to get out in front of a rapidly shifting college athletics landscape that features more opportunities for monetization than ever before.
Pig Trail Nation’s Mike Irwin sees these changes leading to the end of the NCAA:
For more commentary on the SEC expansion from an Arkansas viewpoint, check this out: