Buckle up. Texas and Oklahoma's interest in joining the SEC is the surest sign times are a changin'
HOOVER, Ala. – SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, the most powerful man in college sports, began SEC Media Days this week by repeating a mantra from a classic Bob Dylan song.
The times, they are a changin’.
Change, everyone, could be underselling it.
The Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday that Texas and Oklahoma have reached out to SEC officials “about potentially joining” the powerful league, according to a “high-ranking official” with knowledge of the situation.
The Chronicle reported an announcement could come “within a couple of weeks” about the potential addition of OU and Texas to the SEC.
I asked Sankey on Wednesday afternoon if any official from Texas or Oklahoma had reached out to him or any SEC president about joining the league, and he said, “I’m here to talk about the 2021 season – not some unnamed sourced story.”
There’s no wiggle room in that question, but plenty can be read into the answer. Especially with the ever-changing landscape of college sports.
In the past month, a mega shift of college sports’ tectonic plates has left nearly everything unstable. The idea of the amateur model has been all but blown up.
The last time there was this much uncertainty, football went through a controversial expansion process that contracted one BCS power league (the Big East) and nearly took another (Big 12).
Now the Big 12 could be in peril again, with the loss of Texas and Oklahoma likely leading to the end of the conference and the formation of four superconferences. And college sports’ moves of the past month – or as Sankey said, the times, they are a changin’ — are directly responsible.
NIL legislation has moved college sports into a wild, wild west frontier it couldn’t begin to fathom only months ago. There are little, if any, limitations on how much money players can earn and who they can earn from.
Three weeks before NIL arrived in college sports, the College Football Playoff announced it was moving forward with expansion to 12 teams – a format where two teams could play as many as 17 games in a season.
The new format will come with a new television deal, and one industry source told me this week that the number could reach $1 billion a year. The CFP executive committee can’t reach that kind of deal and expect players to not want a piece of the pie.
Moreover, it’s becoming increasingly clear with each passing week that the NCAA has given up on managing college sports, and football in particular.
NCAA president Mark Emmert said last week that he believes enforcement – the critical component that FBS football has farmed out to the NCAA — should be given to conferences and individual schools. And instead of trying to regain power, the NCAA should deemphasize a national governing body for college sports.
From micromanaging everything and everyone to laissez-faire.
“When you have an environment like that, it just forces us to think more about what constraints should be put in place on college athletes,” Emmert said. “And it should be the bare minimum.”
In less than a month, the NCAA has gone from fighting all things amateurism with every ounce of legal muster (and millions of dollars), to abject capitulation.
With that as the backdrop, why wouldn’t Texas and Oklahoma want to position themselves in the best possible spot for the musical chairs of conference (and college sports) realignment?
Texas nearly left for the Pac-12 the last time the major conferences expanded. During the last round of expansion, the idea of moving to 16 teams was discussed at length in the SEC, and the dream scenario included moving from 12 teams to 16 with Texas A&M, Missouri, North Carolina and Duke.
Conference presidents were concerned about saturation, and the move was ultimately to 14 teams. But NIL legislation, and an expanded Playoff — and more than anything, the looming discussion of pay for play that can’t be ignored – has presidents in the Power 5 leagues searching for answers.
When asked this week how NIL will impact college football, Alabama coach Nick Saban said, “anything I say probably will be wrong – because there is no precedent for the consequences we are creating, good or bad.”
The times, they are a changin’.