Year-End Awards: Best Deal

By Michael Smith

Best Deal: The SEC adds Texas and Oklahoma

The Sooners and Longhorns will remain conference foes.getty images

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey redirects the conversation when he is asked about being the most powerful executive in college athletics.

“I don’t even know what that means,” he said. “Somebody who is effective and has influence, and uses that influence to effect change? I understand what that means, personally and professionally, and that’s a much better description of the role.”

Here’s another: When two of the biggest brands in the nation decide to leave their conference, the SEC is their first call. That was the case last summer when Texas and Oklahoma talked to the SEC about joining. The two powerhouse schools officially accepted invitations to join the SEC in July.

The ripples from the deal are still being felt across the college landscape and will continue for years to come, making it a deserving choice for the Best Deal of the year.

First, there was the seismic shift of two gigantic brands transferring out of their longtime conference homes and joining the SEC, the country’s most powerful football conference. With that came the creation of the first 16-team super conference in the Power Five.

1st, 7th

Rankings in 2019 football revenue for Texas and OU (source: Wall Street Journal).

Second, there was the domino effect created by the movement. Of the 130 schools and 10 conferences in the FBS, 20 schools and five conferences had some type of change in membership in the wake of the SEC’s power play. 

Third, the shifting landscape brought a halt to plans for expansion of the College Football Playoff and along the way provided the impetus for the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 to form The Alliance.

The deal to bring in Texas and Oklahoma created a new dynamic for Sankey as well, who may have been the least popular person in the room during CFP expansion talks.

“That’s an understatement,” Sankey said. “After six years, you understand that criticism is part of the reality. I always go back to making the best decision with the best information available. And along the way, you just understand there will be critics.”

Of course, every conference commissioner would have gladly welcomed Texas and Oklahoma, which have pledged to stay in the Big 12 through the 2024-25 academic year. Exit fees will range from $75 million to $80 million each, providing the Big 12’s remaining members with a financial lift.

While the Big 12 and the rest of the college football world scrambles to keep up, Sankey has positioned his league for continued dominance.

“When I interviewed to become SEC commissioner, I was asked one of those conceptual questions about where the conference will be in one, three and 10 years,” said Sankey. “I want us to operate with a sustained level of excellence that causes colleagues to come to us and ask, ‘What are we doing right?’ That was a pretty effective statement at the time without predicting the future.”

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