The rich get richer.
With today’s official joint statement issued by University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas, the mighty Southeastern College appears to be headed toward boosting their already impressive roster of athletic programs. Technically, the two schools must be approved by 11 of the current 14 member institutions, but one would think that has already been worked out before going public with the prospective plan.
I would venture to guess there are a handful of current SEC members that would rather not see Texas and Oklahoma joining the league. They may not publicly campaign against the OU/UT admittance but nobody wants to be out there leading the charge impeding progress in modern day collegiate athletics.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey knows if the SEC doesn’t absorb the Horns and Sooners, someone else will and he’d rather maintain the league’s position atop the college sports world than fend off a charge by another conference.
Anyone on the western border of the conference should have some concern as selling the opportunity to play in the SEC was a sexy selling point in the recruiting world. But let’s be clear, the Razorbacks have never had an issue recruiting in Texas or Oklahoma when the Hogs are winning.
That includes football, as proven by coaches Frank Broyles, Lou Holtz, Ken Hatfield and sometimes Houston Nutt. Their rosters were littered with a bevy of contributors, even numerous Razorback legends, hailing from those states.
For Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn (and frankly Norm DeBriyn before that), successful gathering of elite Texas and Oklahoma baseball talent has been going on for decades upon decades. Granted, for the past decade, Arkansas’s baseball program is better in every regard (performance, facilities, rabid fan base, etc.) than the two new proposed members.
But the distance between the Hogs, the Horns and the Sooners isn’t so great that Arkansas is a slam dunk destination for heralded recruits. For the most part, Van Horn seems to get everyone he wants out of those states, although I’m certain a few have gotten away to Austin or Norman.
Longhorn baseball is no slouch with regular Omaha appearances while winning two national championships this century under coaching legend Augie Garrido. Oklahoma, despite having loads of Division I baseball talent in its backyard between high school and excellent junior college programs, hasn’t been able to make it translate to the diamond. Good program, but not elite like Arkansas and Texas.
With basketball, coach Eric Musselman sure appears to be on the right path to return the program back to where it was in the old SWC days and those early SEC days. Arkansas was a premier program in that era and routinely dipped into Texas and Oklahoma for elite players when needed.
Musselman and his staff will do the same if a player looks to be a fit. Due to numbers and needs as well as the summer basketball circuit format, college hoops tends to recruit on a more national level, so it’s a tad different.
Arkansas Football and SEC Expansion
Anybody freaking out about football recruiting out of that state needs to face the reality the football program is light years away from Oklahoma’s level and pretty good ways from Texas. Coach Pittman and his gang likely chase some of the same kids as UT and OU but rarely land them. Until Arkansas starts winning a lot, don’t fret losing recruiting battles to OU and Texas for players.
The Sooners have a lot to sell around given regular appearances in the College Football Playoff while Arkansas is figuring out how to beat North Texas. OU chases and gets five and four stars while UA snags an occasional four star and a slew of three stars with upside. For the near future, OU is going to get the better player in a recruiting battle with Arkansas just about every time.
Arkansas is closer to Texas but still not in the same conversation on the gridiron. As much as Hog fans love to hate Texas and their underachieving ways, the Horns record the past 10 years is 73-53 with a 6-2 bowl record, while Arkansas lays claim to 51-71 and a 2-1 bowl record.
Take Bobby Petrino’s 11-2 final season out of the equation in 2011 and the once-proud Arkansas football program is yucky 40-69. With all that said, when Texas and Arkansas meet up on September 11 in Fayetteville, expect that game will be competitive.
At least Arkansas is in the same neighborhood as OU and Texas when it comes to rankings of coolest college football helmets.
Old timers can reminisce about simpler times in college athletics but those days are long, long gone. And don’t get offended as I consider myself in the old timer category, as I played baseball for the Hogs the final two years of the SWC and the first two years of the SEC. Between what will surely set off a domino effect of newly aligned, yet to be formed super conferences and Name Image Likeness (NIL), college sports is at the forefront of a seismic shift.
Think about all those people that work for the Longhorn Network which will surely go away. Maybe ESPN brings all or most of them to handle the now expanded coverage of the SEC. The dollars and cents of the television contracts are the clear driving force behind what is happening with OU and Texas so don’t think ESPN doesn’t have an influential seat at the table.
The schools they are leaving behind in the crumbling Big 12 aren’t big TV draws. Oklahoma and Texas are the straws that stir the drink there. Sankey knows that if the SEC didn’t absorb the Sooners and Longhorns, someone else would and if they landed in the right spot, SEC’s claim as the premier conference could/would be in jeopardy. If this works out as reported, there will be no doubt.
Things will get real interesting when other conferences start jockeying for the leftover schools, or does the Big 12 try to hang in there and poach other schools?
Those are the schools that should really be worried about remaining relevant. Arkansas, Missouri and even Texas A&M should thank their lucky stars they are on the inside looking out as the madness is just beginning.
How the SEC realigns and how that impacts scheduling will also be a lot of fun. Two divisions? Four divisions? Permanent opponents from other divisions? Nine conference games? Ten?
The real losers in all this will be the Group of 5 schools like Arkansas State left out of the super conference mergers and the FCS schools who bank on the big name brand school paydays to keep their athletic programs afloat. Not sure how many of those will get scheduled any more after these super conferences are formed.
All in all, the additions of Texas and Oklahoma improve the SEC but shouldn’t set Arkansas back much in every sport, men’s and women’s, but football. Without question, OU/UT presence in the league ups the competition level but overall, the Razorback non-football programs are better equipped to handle the new challenges.
Until Arkansas gets on the right track on the gridiron, playing those two each year versus some other pair of SEC schools doesn’t matter a whole heck of a lot.
Is a close loss to a mediocre Auburn better than a beatdown by Oklahoma? A loss is a loss in the end. Maybe find a way to beat Missouri before gunning for Texas and Oklahoma?
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman has things pointed in the right direction but the program still has a long ways to go.
He was forced to dig out of a HUGE hole created by people no longer employed at the University of Arkansas. The players seem to love him. Recruits and their families go away very impressed and he’s improving the talent level. The staff he has put together definitely appears like they belong at this level of football.
Will that result in more wins in 2021? Maybe one or two if things fall just right.
SEC schools and their fans better embrace the new league that appears to be just over the horizon.
When this era dawns, exactly, will depend on if Texas and Oklahoma buy their way out of the current media deal that lasts into 2025. Some believe they could be playing SEC football as soon as 2022.
Things falling into that place depends on how cooperative the Big 12 schools left behind will be and how willing Oklahoma and Texas are willing to pay those buyouts.
Oklahoma and Texas in the SEC: What Matters Most
As much as SEC administrators may dislike the heightened competition on the fields and courts, they will enjoy the payday that will come along with a mega-deal with ESPN. Texas and Oklahoma’s quality of sports programs and fan base dictate that and all the SEC members benefit.
Yes, even the football bottom feeders like modern-day Arkansas.
Winning solves a lot of problems in sports and definitely in recruiting. Arkansas facilities are already there or above what Oklahoma and Texas offer so no worries there. If Arkansas wants to maintain its talent level in some sports or improve in others, go win ball games.
Recruits will pay a lot more attention to any Razorback coach with victories over regional competitors like OU and Texas.
To that end, a win over Texas this fall would be EPIC for Pittman’s troops. I wouldn’t put getting a win in this game as probable but it is kinda sorta possible. Can’t say the same if the Hogs were lining up with OU and their old teammate Mike Woods this fall. Maybe by the time Texa and Oklahoma get in the league, the Razorback football program will be on firmer ground and can offer a challenge.
Until then, welcome aboard Horns and Sooners — but be careful what you ask for. The week in, week out grind of the SEC is a whole other level than what you are used to. Don’t let your decades-old arrogance underestimate the top to bottom competitiveness of this league, regardless of sport. It’s something the fans, coaches and players will just have to experience for themselves.
Consider yourself warned.
Former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt gives essentially the same warning to Oklahoma and Texas in the below podcast:
See the latest news here: