The Southeastern Conference unanimously voted Thursday to add the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma, marking a seismic shift in the power structure of major college football that will almost certainly set off widespread conference realignment.
Texas and Oklahoma will meet Friday to formally accept the invitations.
The only question now: How quickly will the Big 12 Conference's two most valuable football brands begin playing under the SEC flag?
Contractually, the Big 12 holds media rights for both schools through 2025, but with buyout fees of roughly $75 million each, the Longhorns and Sooners can break that contract early. The SEC's announcement Thursday said the invitations were effective July 1, 2025.
The move comes just three days after Texas and OU formally notified the Big 12 that they would not renew grants of their media rights beyond the current contract. Big 12 officials, most notably Oklahoma State president Dr. Kayse Shrum, accused the schools of plotting the move for months in violation of Big 12 bylaws. Any bylaw violations on the part of Texas and Oklahoma could give the Big 12 legal leverage to complicate the schools' exit.
Meanwhile, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is fighting for his conference's very existence.
On Wednesday, Bowlsby sent a cease and desist letter to ESPN, one of its own broadcast partners, alleging not only potential involvement by the network in the departure of Texas and Oklahoma, but also that ESPN has had communication with at least one other conference about inducing remaining members of the Big 12 to leave the league. That conference is the AAC (American Athletic Conference), according to The Associated Press. According to the letter, ESPN is in violation of its broadcast contract with the Big 12, and Bowlsby further demanded that the network not communicate with any Big 12 schools, or any other conferences regarding Big 12 schools, as it pertains to conference realignment.
"It is tortious interference," Bowlsby told Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellinger. "It causes me to further suspect that (ESPN) had their hands all over the Texas and Oklahoma move to the SEC. They were as deceptive as you can possibly be."
ESPN released a statement Wednesday saying that Bowlsby's claims have no merit. Eight schools would remain in the Big 12: Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Texas Christian, Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State.
Thursday's SEC vote required approval from three quarters of SEC member schools (11 of 14). After Texas A&M Athletic Director Ross Bjork initially objected to the move, saying at SEC Media Days last week that the Aggies preferred to be the only SEC program in the state of Texas, the Texas A&M Board of Regents recommended Wednesday to approve the expansion.
The expansion is set to give the SEC 16 schools, the most of any Power Five conference, and would add two schools not only with a rich on-field tradition but also big TV audiences, which drives media rights revenue. According to The Athletic, about 50 percent of the Big 12's TV revenue for 2019-2020 ($253 million) was generated by Texas and Oklahoma.