Although Oklahoma has not won a national championship in football since the 2000 season, it has reached the College Football Playoff four times since 2015. Its men’s and women’s gymnastics programs are some of the country’s most formidable, and the university won this year’s national title in softball.
Texas football has had a checkered 21st century. Although the university won a national championship at the end of the 2005 season, the Longhorns have not earned even a conference title since the 2009 season, when they last played for a national championship. This season will bring the debut of Texas’s fourth head coach in less than a decade.
But Texas has thrived in other areas. The men’s swimming program is revered, and the university also won titles this year in women’s rowing and women’s tennis, propelling the university to win the 2020-21 Directors’ Cup, awarded annually to the country’s top college athletic program.
The flirtations of Oklahoma and Texas with the SEC, which is based in Alabama, became public just last week, when The Houston Chronicle reported the schools’ interest in changing leagues. Neither university denied the report. More tellingly, neither pledged allegiance to the Big 12, and instead insisted they would not respond to, as Texas put it, “rumors or speculation.”
Few people had been aware of the extent of the schools’ interest — even some SEC athletic directors said they knew nothing until the Chronicle’s article appeared — and predictable eruptions followed.
The athletic director at Texas A&M, Ross Bjork, for example, loudly argued that the Aggies wanted to be the lone Texas team in the SEC.
On Monday, as A&M’s frustrations faded — they ultimately voted to extend invitations to the Big 12 defectors — Oklahoma and Texas gave the Big 12 the college sports equivalent of divorce papers: notices that they would not renew their conference-connected media rights deals upon their expiration in 2025. The notices were crucial steps in a fraught process that can offer star turns to administrators, politicians and, of course, lawyers, who may very well just be getting started in the unwinding of the Big 12’s ties with Texas and Oklahoma.