The decisions by Oklahoma and Texas will have the greatest effects on the Big 12 and, most likely, the SEC, but their choices will drive a process known as realignment that can scramble the membership rosters of conferences from coast to coast. Although every year brings some shifts inside the sprawling N.C.A.A., which has about 1,100 member schools, transitions from one Power 5 conference to another are far less common. When they do occur, though, they often carry outsize financial and competitive consequences.
Much like coaching changes and player commitments, plans for conference switches can collapse before they are made final. But the notices to the Big 12, whose leaders met with Oklahoma and Texas officials on Sunday to try to stave off the departures, are among the strongest possible signals that the universities expect new deals to materialize imminently.
The SEC, the country’s premier college football conference, has been at the heart of what Texas on Wednesday unconvincingly played down as “rumors or speculation.” The league already boasts some of the mightiest brands in football, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana State, but drawing in Oklahoma and Texas would both expand the conference’s footprint and add two proud, tradition-bound programs.
And it would almost certainly enrich the league in dramatic ways.
In December, the SEC announced a deal with ESPN that will, according to people familiar with its terms, pay the league $300 million a year. The additions of Oklahoma and Texas would give the conference new leverage for a rights agreement whose value could skyrocket with the arrival of two powerhouse brands.
Indeed, one of the thorniest subjects surrounding the potential defections of Oklahoma and Texas has been how much the universities might pay to the Big 12 and its schools in a buyout agreement. Like all other Big 12 schools, Texas and Oklahoma agreed to give the conference control of their most lucrative television rights, including football and most men’s and women’s basketball games, which the conference then sold to ESPN and Fox in a $2.6 billion deal that goes through the 2024-25 school year.