Rushed SEC Expansion Doesn’t Change the Equation for Arkansas as a Big Loser

SEC expansion, Oklahoma football, Texas football, Arkansas football
photo credit: ESPN / Nick Wenger

As expected, Oklahoma and Texas’ move from the Big 12 to the SEC is happening sooner rather than later. The long-standing rivals and Big 12 finalized an agreement that allows them to compete in the SEC starting in the 2024 fall sports season.

When the news broke in 2021 that the Big 12’s most influential members were leaving to make the best football conference in the country only stronger, Arkansas football fans took notice. The Razorbacks and Longhorns were fierce rivals dating back to the old Southwest Conference days and now the only place they regularly compete is on the recruiting trail, but in some ways that was an even more important battle than the ones fought on the gridiron for decades. Arkansas depends on Texas talent to fuel its program and many years, UT has the first dibs although the market has been tougher to corner with Texas A&M, TCU and Houston all fielding better programs. It also didn’t help Texas when A&M joined the SEC several years ago. 

Just like it helped the Aggies’ recruiting fortunes to move to the SEC, the same should help Texas and OU, with their sparkling reputations as football powers. As I wrote in this space when the announcement was made, Arkansas was a big loser in the expansion. The biggest sales pitch Hogs coaches had when they entered a prospect’s home in Dallas was, ‘You can play in the SEC and not be far from home, if you come to Fayetteville.’ Now, Texas owns that advantage and Oklahoma can now use the same pitch as Arkansas with Texas recruits – play in the SEC and still be relatively close to home even if you’re not in your native state. 

Texas and OU have national football reputations. They have won national championships, they attract five-star recruits and experts give them more respect than they deserve based on previous success. That is another ‘L’ for Arkansas. In the SEC, the Razorbacks rank in the middle or lower middle in overall reputation and respectability historically. The Hogs are not a ‘football school’ even though fans desperately wished they were.

Shaky Ground Ahead of SEC Expansion

However, as schools gear up for spring football and the 2023 season, recruits (and portal prospects) will be paying attention to the new prospective SEC members. They are both on shaky ground, perhaps even more so than Arkansas, as they prepare for their final seasons in the Big 12. In 2022, the Longhorns finished a meh 8-5 overall and 6-3 in conference play under second-year head coach Steve Sarkisian. They won three of their final four games, including a big one against Big 12 Champion Kansas State, but finished with a thud, losing 30-27 to Washington at the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

The proud Sooners endured a disastrous schedule under first-year head coach Brent Venables, finishing 6-7 overall (on a two-game skid) and a horrid 3-6 in league play. The worst defeat was a 49-0 shellacking at the hands of bitter rival Texas in Dallas. Venables was able to beat in-state rival Oklahoma State to secure a bowl bid, but lost to Florida State in the Cheez-it Bowl to sink the record under .500.

Oklahoma football needs to rebound more than Texas this season, but both need to contend in the revamped Big 12 (BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston are all new members this season). They can’t afford to limp into the SEC.

Texas only lost to SEC power Alabama 20-19 in Austin early in the season and this fall will travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for a key non-conference tilt. OU’s nonconference slate is uneventful with Arkansas State coming to town and road tilts at Tulsa and SMU. Mustangs head coach and Arkansas native, Rhett Lashlee, will be ready for the Sooners.

Recruits Keep Eye on Arkansas Football, Too

Recruits will be paying special attention to both programs to see how they have progressed over unimpressive 2022 campaigns as they try to gauge how they will compete in the ultra-tough SEC. Prospects will also be scrutinizing Arkansas, who turned in a paltry 7-6 campaign after lofty expectations.

The Hogs should win four games in the non-conference (Western Carolina, Kent State, BYU and Florida International), but they start the SEC in a brutal way playing at LSU, Texas A&M in Arlington, at Ole Miss and at Alabama. Those four games will make or break the season.

The Sooners and Longhorns may always own an advantage in Texas on the recruiting trail and in the rankings, but the 2023 season looms very large. If Sam Pittman can somehow win 8 or 9 games with this gauntlet of an SEC schedule, the 2024 recruiting class could be very robust.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma and Texas football programs need to generate every ounce of momentum they can muster in 2023. If they are not players in the Big 12 Championship, they could be in real trouble as they enter SEC play. It’s a pivotal year for all three, especially since they could be grouped together in the same four-team SEC pod. That would only thicken the plot.

Money To Be Made from SEC Expansion

Arkansas made a little more than $37 million in media rights revenue from the SEC in the fiscal year 2021-22, according to its annual financial report to the NCAA.

With the $300,000 million annual football contract with ESPN and $512 million more in media rights annually coming from other sources, the media rights revenue boosts for schools will likely jump to $58-60 million, according to USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz.

There is a catch, as The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway points out: The SEC borrowed against the future ESPN football contract during the pandemic, a loan it could wind up repaying into the late 2020s. Even with that, and adding Texas and Oklahoma as partners, SEC schools are projected to make more money.

More about SEC expansion starting at 28:50 here:


More coverage of Arkansas football and SEC expansion from BoAS…

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