Oklahoma and Texas have officially notified the Big 12 of their plans to not renew grant of rights with the conference in 2025. That decision signifies the Sooners and Longhorns are prepared to depart the Big 12 in favor of another conference, which is expected to be the SEC. Both programs released a statement to announce their intentions on Monday, which also indicated they plan to “honor their existing grant-of-rights agreements.” Even though the statement indicates neither program plans to leave before the grant of rights expire, a buyout or agreement to leave the Big 12 early is a strong possibility.
With Oklahoma and Texas all set to leave the Big 12, the conference is in a perilous spot. Even before today’s announcement, this league was the smallest of the Power 5, and the Sooners and Longhorns held the overall value of the conference together. The departure of Oklahoma and Texas takes away the Big 12’s best brands and significantly weakens the league’s overall place in college athletics.
So what’s next for the Big 12? Step one for commissioner Bob Bowlsby is to lock down the eight remaining members – Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech, and West Virginia. All eight programs are in a tough spot. On one hand, fortifying the conference you are currently in is a priority. However, all eight are certainly looking around at the other Power 5 leagues for an opportunity to better their standing in the world of college athletics.
Assuming the conference doesn’t see more members depart, the next step would be expanding to 12, 14 or 16 teams. The candidates don’t necessarily move the needle in a massive way for dollar value on television contracts, but the Big 12 can’t stay at eight members and needs to add for stability.
While there are no elite candidates for expansion, several programs make a lot of sense. The Big 12 should look at some combination of Boise State, BYU, Houston, UCF, USF and Cincinnati for the first invites. Bringing in the best Group of 5 programs, along with BYU, would help the conference in its quest to make the next round of media rights as appealing as possible.
Another option is to pursue some sort of working arrangement with the Pac-12 or merge with the American Athletic Conference. Both are longshots, but if the Big 12 wants to survive, some bold (and quick) thinking is going to be necessary.
The Big 12 does have a couple of factors working in its favor for expansion. The conference has autonomy designation by the NCAA, while also bringing in more revenue as a Power 5 league in the College Football Playoff. One or both could change in the future, but those two elements could help the conference in the short term and for a rebuilding effort.
The future of the Big 12 remains in the balance after Oklahoma and Texas chose to depart. However, holding the eight members, plus expansion to bolster the league’s overall numbers, would at least keep this conference right behind the other power conferences.