By Aron Solomon
A huge sports story over the past few days has the universities of Oklahoma and Texas moving to the Southeastern Conference (the SEC). At least one of its correct conference members, Texas A&M, is displeased and was planning a Board of Regents meeting for Monday to discuss the realignment, before announcing on Sunday afternoon that they are now ready for the schools to join.
Adding Oklahoma and Texas is absolutely a power move by the SEC, one of a series of dominos that are falling that may see college football separate from the NCAA.
Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt joined the SEC in 1932. Arkansas and South Carolina joined in 1991, then Missouri and Texas A&M in 2012. The ongoing discussion are for Oklahoma and Texas to join in 2022
So how is it legally okay for the SEC to simply add schools?
The SEC has around 40 pages of bylaws. They cover everything from membership in the conference, to rules surrounding student-athlete academic eligibility and even officiating.
The legally relevant terms are in section 3 of the bylaws, with 3.1 addressing membership. It’s worth examining the section as a whole:
3.0 GENERAL PRINCIPLE
The SEC is both a competitive body and a legislative body, as defined in Articles 3.02.1 and 3.02.2 of the NCAA Constitution
3.1 MEMBERSHIP, TERMINATION, SUSPENSION
*3.1.1 Number of Members. The number of members of the Conference shall be set by the Chief Executive Officers. [Revised: 5/30/91]
*3.1.2 Granting of Membership. Membership may be granted by invitation of the Conference at a meeting of the Chief Executive Officers. A vote of at least three-fourths of the members is required to extend an invitation for membership. [Revised: 5/30/91] [Clarified/Conformed 6/1/11]
*3.1.3 Suspension of Membership. Membership may be suspended at a meeting of the Chief Executive Officers. A member may be suspended at any time by a vote of at least two-thirds of the members, either indefinitely or for a stated period, for any conduct deemed to be incompatible with membership. [Clarified/Conformed 6/1/11]
*3.1.4 Termination of Membership. Membership may be terminated voluntarily by the resignation of a member or involuntarily at a meeting of the Chief Executive Officers. A vote of at least two-thirds of the members is required to terminate membership. Any motion to terminate membership shall specify the effective date of the proposed termination. [Clarified/Conformed 6/1/11]
So it’s clear that it’s not up to individual member schools as to whether they want to add new members but rather a three-fourths supermajority of the member schools. This is a really important clause because of the effect and impact of adding new schools.
Could any of the member universities voting against allowing the new new schools have a claim for damages? Probably but not absolutely not. The expansion of the SEC is all about money. Increasing the league’s financial base will benefit every team and here’s why.
Let’s use a technology startup analogy to explain. Let’s say you hold shares in a tech startup and new investors come and invest in the business. Your share will dilute – you’ll own less of the business. But with that infusion of money invested into the business, it’s worth more money. While you now own a lesser percentage of the business, the overall value of your shares is worth more.
So even schools voting against letting Oklahoma and Texas in would simply be voting against their own financial best interests. While the more teams that join means the SEC pie is sliced into thinner slices, the pie is going to grow by attracting teams of the quality of their two new entrants.
The University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas will each need to pay around eighty million dollars as a buyout fee to their current conference, the Big 12, where they are under contract. Why would it be worth it for universities pay to get out of their existing conference? Because it’s worth it to guarantee their future in the SEC, as this conference is a massive cash magnet. In late 2020, the conference signed a three-billion dollar agreement with Disney (parent company of ABC and ESPN, lest we forget) for their football broadcasting rights. One can only speculate as to whether the Disney contract contains further financial incentives for the SEC if they are able to land two new schools of the stature of Oklahoma and Texas.
The reason this is happening now is because it’s pretty clear to even a casual observer that the NCAA has stepped back from college football. The SEC move could be the first in a fundamental reimagining of the power structure in college football, removing the NCAA from the mix and creating a new league order.
Here’s how I personally see this playing out: A consolidation of powerful football schools falling into one two big major conferences. These will be the college football big leagues and have around 30 teams – not terribly different from the AFC/NFC alignment in the NFL. There will be two herculean leagues and another 90-ish Division I college football teams either playing in regional leagues, leagues with historical relevance such as the Ivy League, or free-floating, as key independent programs such as Notre Dame have for years (I think Notre Dame, though, would join one of the two power conferences).
For many fans, this is all a real shame and not how college football was designed. It certainly isn’t the way conferences were supposed to work. If fans wanted college football to resemble the NFL, they would have been asking for it for decades. I’m personally a fan of Pac-12 football and miss when it was the Pac-10. I don’t want to watch my Trojans play in potentially the same conference as Auburn or Ohio State.
But the SEC move and the ones that will almost inevitably follow are all about money. So much so that the Big 12 is exploring a new revenue-share agreement to try to keep Oklahoma and Texas in the conference and not out the door to the SEC.
Looked at more granularly, this is about building brand value for these conferences as they morph into actual leagues. If we think the SEC is a money magnet today, the impending consolidation of power teams into conferences with unprecedented influence will carry with it massive brands and the cash they bring to fuel this entire machine.