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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.