The long-planned move of the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns from the Big 12 to the SEC has also long had uncertainty about its date. The 2021 public announcements of that had the schools joining the SEC ahead of the 2025 football season, but there was significant discussion from many sides that their conference shift might come sooner, with an Athletic report in December discussing negotiations’ “momentum” and even calling a move ahead of the 2024 season ‘likely.’ Well, that’s now gone the other way, as Pete Thamel of ESPN and Matt Fortuna of The Athletic reported Friday:
Texas and Oklahoma will join the SEC in 2025, as parties couldn’t come to terms amid a complex negotiation between two schools (OU/Texas), two networks (ESPN/FOX) and the Big 12.
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) February 3, 2023
It appears more and more likely that Oklahoma and Texas will not begin SEC play before their contractual start date of 2025-26. The Big 12’s board has a prescheduled meeting today in Dallas. @PeteThamel first on the stalled talks.
— Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna) February 3, 2023
The ESPN story on talks stalling in the complex negotiation to get Oklahoma and Texas to join the SEC one year early. "There's no formal timeline or brink from which you can't come back. But this is where things are right now — a deal is unlikely." https://t.co/VPXauPkY4S
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) February 3, 2023
Fortuna’s piece on this specifically ties the issues to TV discussions involving Fox and ESPN, a topic which has come up before. A big part of this move is about Texas and Oklahoma going from the half-Fox, half-ESPN Big 12 to the all-ESPN SEC. In October, CBS’ Dennis Dodd and Chip Patterson originally wrote “sources told Dodd that Fox would likely have demanded years of significant television inventory trades from ESPN as the marquee programs would have left its airwaves” before updating to “sources told Dodd that Fox would likely have demanded a return to make its future programming whole, including a top-tier selection of games years into the future given the marquee programs would have left its airwaves early.”
As we discussed in our analysis then, that update was key. That illustrated that this was a multi-part negotiation involving conferences and networks rather than just an ESPN-Fox issue, and that any “inventory trades” would likely be in the next Big 12 contract (not signed at that point, ESPN and Fox struck those deals with the conference later last October). And any deals there were always going to be complex; it’s quite possible that the schools could work out early exit fees with the Big 12, but couldn’t work out how to replace the inventory Fox would lose from losing their rights a year early. The TV deals appear to be the particular issue here (especially how to get Fox to agree to let the Longhorns and Sooners out early), as Fortuna writes:
Momentum had been moving since early December for Oklahoma and Texas to leave for the SEC one year ahead of schedule. Talks had ramped up heavily in the past few weeks, with the schools, conferences and their respective TV networks (ESPN/Fox) looking for a way to make the math work. Ultimately, that may turn out to be too tall of a task to satisfy everyone, between school exit fees, ESPN paying for an extra year of its SEC deal and Fox needing appropriate compensation for surrendering its two most valuable Big 12 properties one year early.
Here’s what Thamel writes on that:
After weeks of negotiations, Texas and Oklahoma are still slated to join the SEC in 2025. Sources said the parties couldn’t come to terms amid a complex negotiation involving two schools, two networks (ESPN and Fox) and the Big 12.
Sources said the sides couldn’t agree on how to create equitable value for what Fox would lose in 2024 — the equivalent of seven football games featuring Oklahoma and Texas that command premium advertising.
The negotiations heated up over the past few days, with the Big 12 meetings late this week doubling as an unofficial deadline to get a deal done.
…”There’s no formal timeline or brink from which you can’t come back,” an industry source said. “But this is where things are right now — a deal is unlikely.”
As noted there, this isn’t necessarily a death knell for the idea of an early exit. There’s still a lot of time before the 2024 football season. And many “unlikely” things do happen, and things like this described as both “likely” and “unlikely” at certain points are particularly difficult to predict. But, for now at least, it seems like the Sooners and Longhorns are likely to remain in the Big 12 until the 2025 football season.
[ESPN, The Athletic; top photo of Oklahoma coach Brent Venables and Texas coach Steve Sarkisian after an Oct. 14, 2022 game from Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman, via USA Today Sports]