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The SEC’s Master Negotiating Stroke That Paved The Way For Texas and Oklahoma

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As the SEC finalized its blockbuster deal to take the CBS game of the week and move it to ESPN in December of 2019, one of the final issues tantalizing SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was this: now that ESPN would control all SEC games in the years ahead, what would happen if expansion opportunities arose again?

Back in 2011, the SEC’s leaders seethed with anger when CBS refused to pay the conference equal pro rata television shares for the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M. Indeed it was this anger more than anything else that would lead the SEC, a decade later, to spurn CBS’s attempts to extend their deal and move all of its games to ESPN.

Huddling with his lead advisors, Sankey sought a guarantee from ESPN that if the conference expanded in the future, he’d have the ability to pay the new teams the same amount of money, pro rata, that his 14 current teams were already guaranteed. But why would ESPN sign a deal that gave Sankey and the SEC equal money for all expansion candidates, regardless of their quality? The SEC and ESPN needed to define the field of potential expansion candidates in a way that made both sides comfortable with the expanded version of their deal.

That’s when the SEC’s negotiating team came up with a plan. What if they wrote into the contract that any A-list addition was automatically covered by the existing contract? But that raised another question: how to define an A list team? The crew bandied about the idea of labeling Texas as an A list school, but the concern was that limited the SEC to schools like Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and USC, bona fide top brands without any question at all.

Everyone already knew Texas was an A list school.

They needed a school with a bit more broad appeal, an A-lister that gave them options to dip down closer to the B list if it made sense. Who knew what the future held? The SEC wanted a broad pool of candidates, an expansive list of targets that would eliminate doubt in the event of future expansion.

That’s when they hit on Oklahoma.

Who would the SEC and ESPN define as an A list school in their contract? The Sooners. That way, you got the big name schools like Texas, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and USC, but you could also have a strong argument for other schools a bit below Oklahoma, the UCLAs of the world, even.

Now as the SEC prepares to add Texas and Oklahoma to the conference, OutKick can report that the conference has a mandate that no other conference does, the biggest and most lucrative television deal in all of college sports is portable. The SEC can guarantee potential expansion candidates that they will enter as full share equals the moment they begin play in future years, a guaranteed opportunity no other conference has at the present moment.

Why does that matter?

Because some have advised Sankey to think even broader than just adding Texas and Oklahoma. If the NCAA is collapsing and the major conferences will have all the power, why stop at 16 teams? Heck, why even limit yourself to the existing SEC footprint at all? Why couldn’t, some ask, the South also be defined as Southern California? I’m not saying USC to the SEC is going to happen. I’m just saying, the Trojans would make way more money in the SEC than they will in the Pac-12, even in a new Pac-12 deal.

Welcome to a new era of college football, ManifSECt destiny, writ large.

The opportunity is there, thanks to the master negotiation stroke back in December of 2019. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey wasn’t just negotiating for the deal in front of him. Like all good negotiators, he was thinking about the next deal too. And now the next deal is here.

And already paid for.

So when will Oklahoma and Texas begin play in the SEC? Right now, that’s partially determined by CBS, which controls the SEC’s game of the week until the end of the 2024 football season. But there’s already discussion that a deal might be made. What if ESPN got the SEC’s game of the week starting in 2022 and in exchange for that game coming to ESPN early, ESPN gave CBS the second best SEC game for several years? With Texas and Oklahoma now in the fold, the second best SEC game is a valuable proposition. The same thing could be true with Fox Sports and any claim they have on Texas and Oklahoma games going forward as a part of their Big 12 deal, might Fox want to air SEC games as well? In theory this could be an additional masterstroke for Sankey and the SEC. They’d have three networks promoting their games instead of one in the short term.

And in the long term?

Well, look out, the SEC is loaded with cash, and any A list candidate is probably guaranteed more money with the SEC than they can make anywhere else. That’s especially the case because the Pac-12, Big 12, and Big Ten all have TV contracts set to expire soon. And the ACC is locked into an inferior deal for years to come.

Right now, Texas and Oklahoma are the SEC targets.

But, buckle up, the A-list targets are all in play for the SEC, and they are loaded up and big game hunting.

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.

17 Comments

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  1. I don’t think the college football watching public would accept another round of expansion where the SEC takes some or all of the remaining A-list teams (Michigan, USC, Ohio State, etc.) Texas and Oklahoma at least are geographic fits and the Big XII has been losing members for years. If the PAC-12 and Big Ten lost their most marketable members to the SEC, I think you’d see a Premier League type populist revolt. Every other major sport (NHL, NFL, etc.) expands into newer and medium sized markets while college football would be the only one where the non-marquee teams (Big XII leftovers, Pac 12 leftovers, etc.) were relegated out.

    • The NHL ain’t expanding nowhere in this country, the NBA either i doubt, hockey has almost zip TV presence
      and the NBA’s is dwindling, so small markets bring nothing to the table. I don’t see the NFL doing any expanding either. Perhaps abroad.

      • NHL just added the Vegas Golden Knights, a medium sized market. I don’t see UNLV or Nevada getting any major conference consideration. If the B1G ten were to raid the PAC 12 to get USC, Oregon, Washington, etc., it’s quite possible leftover schools like Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Oregon State, etc. would be shit out of luck.

    • What’s wrong with “relegation?”

      While most football fans laugh at soccer, the English Premiere League – which may generate more money that the NFL — has an excellent system for keeping play competitive through their “relegation” system. You can’t just be the NY Jets every year and stay in the league!

      For those that don’t know, “Relegation” calls for the two teams that finish last (like the 2020 Jets and Jaguars) to play a game and the loser is OUT of the league — they are “relegated” to what Baseball calls “AAA.” and whoever wins the English Soccer “AAA” championship moves UP to the Premiere League. Just as no one can perpetual suck in the Premiere League, no one can dominate “AAA” year-after year, either.

      College Football should have such a system… this way, every year a “mid-major” can prove they are “worthy,” and a perpetual bottom-dweller goes away.

      Apparently the SEC seeks to do this permanently – you’re either “IN” or your just “out of luck.”

  2. Oh don’t worry, relegation is coming for teams that can’t keep up. If I’m a school that consistently wins, why would I want to share $$$ with the Vandy’s and Kansas’ of the CFB world? And I know people will argue that conferences will have to take all the programs or none…sure, whatever. Follow the money people and quit looking at everything through fan(atic) glasses. If conferences or individual schools cling to “academic standards” or a “we’re bigger than any conference” mentality, they’re going to find themselves on the outside looking in.

    • Yeah we get it, but it’s just about freakin money AGAIN. This line of thinking is what will ultimately kill the golden goose. When you “corporatize” something that has organic regional appeal, tradition and history like college football I think you’re going to lose what made it all so popular to begin with. The history forms the program identity, so if you scrap, taint or cheapen that it’s only a matter of time until the whole sport becomes kitschy and cliche. Oh well. On with “Big football”. We’ve screwed everything else up chasing money. Why not get China as an investor while we’re at it too?

        • I feel your pain gentlemen, but you’ve got to see the bigger picture. Imagine something like this: Thursday Night PrimeTime Fall 2022 on the SEC Network, it’s Alabama vs Texas. Why Thursday? Doesn’t the NFL play on Thursday night? They do, but they’re moving that game to Amazon Prime only. If you’re the SEC you’ve got a giant void there waiting to be filled…why not give the NFL some REAL competition. You think fans aren’t tuning in for that?

    • I agree John. The only upside here is that we no longer have to sit through Oklahoma hanging 70 points on Kansas in what is essentially a throwaway scrimmage game.

      But ultimately I dislike this fragmenting of college football.

      This was a while in the making but still happening too fast in my opinion —> “Gradually, then suddenly…” -Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

      • THIS was inevitable once college got the “playoffs.” The “big schools” in weak conferences would be perpetually hampered by “weak schedules” brought about by a lack of “quality” conference games.

        I know i say this ALOT.. and I know i’ll be perpetually criticized, but:

        BRING BACK THE BOWLS!!

        Make College football fun, again. Yes, lets argue all off-season that ALABAMA and USC should have played a “Championship game” rather than BOTH schools claim a National Title (this happened EXACTLY in 1979). Let’s all argue about if winning the Rose bowl is better than winning the Cotton Bowl.. lets talk about FOOTBALL, not football politics. Let’s spend all of New Year’s day mapping out how 1 of a 1/2-dozen teams has a shot to “win it all” on that day.. let’s go to bed with a bully full of football and wake up the next day and read in the Papers who is #1 (even if it’s 2 or 3 different teams)!!

  3. It’s not Nick Saban. Or Coach K at Duke… or any of these people that you normally think of. (Even Mark Emmert)

    It is quite simple and clear now – Greg Sankey is the most powerful man in all of college sports. Period. And there isn’t a close second.

  4. The NCAA control of college athletics is over . The NCAA as an organization
    has been totally inept . The Athletics Conferences will not fill the gap and do a better job than the NCAA .

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