With conversations increasing around the possibility of Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC earlier than scheduled, the steps needed to facilitate such a move are coming into focus. It is likely any deal involving the Longhorns and Sooners joining the SEC a year early in 2024 would include Big 12 rightsholders being made whole with a series of future nonconference games involving those teams within the league's footprint, industry sources tell CBS Sports.
Presently, the Big 12 grant of rights expires in 2025, freeing Texas and Oklahoma to join the SEC that summer. However, discussions about Texas and Oklahoma receiving an early exit from the Big 12 ramped up three weeks ago. Word of those talks began to leak last week during Big 12 league meetings in Las Vegas.
The Big 12's two media rightsholders, Fox and ESPN, are key factors that complicate the situation. At the heart of the matter: How viewership would be impacted on Fox and ESPN in 2024 if Texas and Oklahoma left before the that season. There would be an obvious decline in viewership for the Big 12 package -- and by extension, the value of the Big 12 media rights deal -- without games from the conference's biggest national names.
Texas and Oklahoma are using SEC TV consultant Alan Gold to facilitate a deal, sources tell CBS Sports. The idea would be to "use games as currency" -- atoning for the viewership decline with Texas and Oklahoma playing a selection of future nonconference games at Big 12 schools.
"They would have to play games in the [Big 12] footprint so Fox and ESPN can have value," an industry source told CBS Sports. "If ESPN and Fox are happy, [the Big 12] would be happy."
That could potentially lead to the continuation of the Bedlam series between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State that was expected to end when OU joined the SEC in 2025.
When those games would be played or how many would be scheduled is not yet known.
"Ultimately, the Big 12 is the position to say either 'yay' or 'nay,'" said one person involved in the negotiations.
The Action Network first reported on the escalated talks with Texas and Oklahoma potentially leaving for the Big 12 for the SEC in 2024.
Sources differ in categorizing the likelihood of a deal with some believing it imminent while others consider a resolution improbable.
"I don't see it happening," an industry source said of an early departure.
An announcement that Texas and Oklahoma would join the SEC in 2024, instead of 2025, could come as soon as early next year, one source told CBS Sports.
"It's advanced. It's further along," said a source involved in those conversations. "It was going on long before Las Vegas."
If the deal to leave a year early is consummated, the Longhorns and Sooners would officially become SEC members on July 1, 2024.
Texas and Oklahoma originally committed to staying through the end of the Big 12 grant of rights and reaffirmed those plans when Brett Yormark took over as league commissioner in August. However, that stance changed about a month into Yormark's arrival. The schools held back their desire to leave early while the conference completed a complicated new media rights deal that begins in 2026.
Lacking on-field performance this year actually helped Texas and Oklahoma in their endeavor. OU's ratings were down significantly during an uncharacteristic 6-6 season. Industry analysts told CBS Sports that the ratings of games involving the other eight current Big 12 schools were up almost 50%.
At least one reason why the two collegiate powerhouses want out early is to avoid sharing space with new Big 12 entries BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. Those four programs join the Big 12 for a 14-team league at least for 2023. This latest development likely explains why the Big 12 has yet to announce a scheduling format for next season.
"[Texas and Oklahoma] have been pushing pretty adamantly that they want to exit sooner rather than later," a Big 12 source tells CBS Sports. "They seem to have issue with the four new universities we've brought into our conference. That's kind of expedited things. I feel like something will be worked out for them to leave the league a year early."
Texas and Oklahoma would at least owe the Big 12 a termination fee for leaving early. The contract states any school departing early owes two years' worth of revenue. Using an average annual figure of $42 million, the Big 12 could reap as much as $168 million if Texas and Oklahoma give notice to the league 18 months in advance.
That sum could be negotiated down depending on each side's willingness to get a deal done. Whatever monies are paid could conceivably be used to fund Big 12 expansion, sources told CBS Sports. It could also be distributed to existing members.
The Pac-12 remains without a new media rights deal. With their prospects seemingly diminishing, the likes of Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah could potentially be lured to the Big 12. The idea would be to convince those schools they could make more money in the Big 12.
The Big 12's new media rights deal, announced in late October, will guarantee league schools an all-in average figure of at least $48 million (including bowl revenue and NCAA Tournament monies), sources indicated. That is approximately $5 million more than conference members are presently earning with Texas and Oklahoma. The new deal starts in 2025.