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UT System board votes to accept invitation for UT-Austin to join the SEC

Texas is headed to the Southeastern Conference after a whirlwind week. (File)
Texas is headed to the Southeastern Conference after a whirlwind week. (File)(KSWO)
Published: Jul. 30, 2021 at 11:35 AM CDT
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AUSTIN, Texas (TEXAS TRIBUNE) - The University of Texas System Board of Regents voted unanimously Friday morning to accept an invitation for the University of Texas at Austin to join the Southeastern Conference in 2025.

“Over the last 25 years, we’ve benefitted from our strong relationship with our valued Big 12 Conference partners,” board Chair Kevin Eltife said Friday during the meeting. “They’ve provided great competitive contests. Together we created a shared history during this chapter. As our relationship evolves, we will continue to fulfill our obligations to them through the end of our time together.”

The news comes after the SEC voted to invite UT and the University of Oklahoma to join its 14-member league during a meeting with the league members’ presidents and chancellors Thursday afternoon.

“Today’s unanimous vote is both a testament to the SEC’s longstanding spirit of unity and mutual cooperation, as well as a recognition of the outstanding legacies of academic and athletic excellence established by the Universities of Oklahoma and Texas,” Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “I greatly appreciate the collective efforts of our Presidents and Chancellors in considering and acting upon each school’s membership interest.”

This week, UT and OU announced they would not renew their media rights contracts with the Big 12 in 2025, and requested entry into the SEC in a letter to Sankey a day after that.

“We believe that there would be mutual benefit to the Universities on the one hand, and the SEC on the other hand, for the Universities to become members of the SEC,” UT President Jay Hartzell and OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. said in a letter to Sankey.

The decision comes just a week after news surfaced that the two schools planned to leave the Big 12, sending shockwaves through college sports and many Texas lawmakers who feel the expansion will have drastic consequences on the remaining Texas schools in the Big 12.

Since Texas and Oklahoma are the Big 12′s most prominent sports schools, the departures could have huge financial ramifications on other schools like Texas Tech University, Baylor University and Texas Christian University.

The size and scope of UT and Oklahoma help drive television revenue and interest for teams in the conference. Playing in a conference also boosts fan interest and ticket sales and helps promote the schools.

For example, Texas Tech athletics earned more than $90.4 million during the 2020 fiscal year. Big 12 money accounted for over a third of that revenue. But now the ability of the conference to distribute nearly $40 million a year to its remaining members in the future has been thrown into doubt. Most of that money comes from television revenue, which may decline without UT and OU.

This week, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby sent ESPN a cease-and-desist letter alleging that the television network is conspiring to damage the league’s standing by luring schools to leave.

“One of the ways the two schools and ESPN will seek to absolve themselves of the obligation is to destabilize the league and cause an implosion of the other eight members,” Bowlsby told CBS Sports this week.

TCU said Monday afternoon that the school has been engaged in deliberations with conference colleagues and those who support the Big 12.

“TCU will continue to make decisions in the best interests of our student-athletes, our community and the long-term vitality of our athletic programs,” spokesperson Holly Ellman said in a statement. “Athletics are a part of TCU’s national reputation and build upon our core strengths of academic achievement, scholarly pursuit and an unparalleled student experience.”

A study from The Perryman Group, an economic research firm in Waco, showed that there could be devastating economic consequences for the communities that served Big 12 schools in Texas, regardless of whether the Big 12 conference dissolves after the SEC expansion.

The conference would face smaller television deals and lower attendance at sporting events, while affected communities could face disruptions to athletic revenue, tourism and economic benefits.

“College athletics is changing, and it is understandable and even inevitable that schools will respond,” the report said. “At the same time, the consequences for other universities and how those might be mitigated is worthy of consideration.”

Meanwhile, UT and OU could see their revenue climb significantly through the move from television revenue, ticket revenue and additional branding opportunities.

The decision may also tie into a Supreme Court ruling last month that says athletes can earn money based on their intellectual property, meaning flagship schools must find new ways to earn revenue.

Although UT and OU said in their letter to Bowlsby that they don’t plan to renew their deal with the conference past 2025, there is speculation that the two schools would not be bound by the Big 12′s contract if the conference dissolves before 2025. They would need to pay a penalty of more than $75 million for leaving the league early but are still legally required to give 18 months’ notice, per Big 12 bylaws.

“I have every expectation that Oklahoma and Texas will do whatever they can to not meet their [contractual] obligations,” Bowlsby told CBS Sports. “That’s what they’ve done so far.”

After two closed-session meetings this week, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents voted late Wednesday afternoon to support Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC, despite concerns the board had over the “communication process.” A&M joined the SEC from the Big 12 a decade ago.

“The board concluded that this expansion would enhance the long-term value of the SEC to student athletes and all of the institutions they represent — including Texas A&M,” the statement read.

The UT System Board of Regents will also meet at 9 a.m. Saturday to discuss the expansion.

(Disclosure: Texas A&M University, the Texas A&M University System, Baylor University, Texas Christian University, Texas Tech University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas System have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here)