SEC votes to admit Texas and Oklahoma, expand to 16 teams

SEC presidents voted on Thursday to admit Texas and Oklahoma into the conference, completing a whirlwind process that began last week and formally setting the stage for another round of Football Bowl Subdivision expansion and realignment.

The vote was unanimous, the group said in a statement. The one possible roadblock to a unanimous vote was cleared Wednesday evening, when the Texas A&M System Board of Regents said they would direct university president M. Katherine Banks to vote in favor of adding the Longhorns and Sooners, the Aggies' former Big 12 rivals.

“Today’s unanimous vote is both a testament to the SEC’s longstanding spirit of unity and mutual cooperation, as well as a recognition of the outstanding legacies of academic and athletic excellence established by the Universities of Oklahoma and Texas,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. 

“I greatly appreciate the collective efforts of our Presidents and Chancellors in considering and acting upon each school’s membership interest.”

The effective date is July 1, 2025, the conference said, with athletic competition set to begin in the 2025-26 academic year.

The Texas and Oklahoma board of regents will meet on Friday to officially accept the invitations.

With this last hurdle cleared, the focus for the SEC now shifts to how quickly — and at what financial cost — the conference can add Texas and Oklahoma. While both sides have said the programs will honor the current Big 12 grants of media rights contract, which concludes in 2025, the schools are expected to come to a buyout agreement with the Big 12 to leave in advance of that deal's expiration.

The rapid succession of events in the past week has embroiled the entire Power Five landscape and raised questions about the viability of the Big 12, which is now short of the league's two national programs.

Alabama players celebrated after beating Florida  in the SEC championship.

On Wednesday, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby sent a letter to ESPN accusing the network of having been "actively engaged in discussions with at least one other conference regarding that conference inducing additional members of the Big 12 Conference to leave the Big 12 Conference."

ESPN is "intentionally interfering with our business operations by encouraging other conferences to poach the members of the Big 12 and providing incentives to them to do so," Bowlsby told USA TODAY Sports.

Asked if the letter to ESPN is a precursor to legal action against the company, Bowlsby said: "In my estimation, it’s clearly a tortious interference with business, and so the cease and desist letter is intended to have that effect."

Asked if the conference would take action against schools, Bowlsby said: " ... we're prepared to do what we need to to protect our business rights."

"It's not so much about the taking of the members, what it does — and what it's intended to do — is destabilize the Big 12 so that it implodes, thus absolving OU and Texas of their grant of rights obligations and their exit fee obligations," he said. "If the Big 12 fails to exist as an entity, they can move quicker and they can do so for less money.”

In a response to Bowlsby's letter sent on Thursday, ESPN called the Big 12's claims "entirely without merit."

"Apart from a single vague allegation that ESPN has been 'actively engaged in discussions with at least one other' unnamed conference, which ESPN disputes, your letter consists entirely of unsubstantiated speculation and legal conclusions," the network said. 

"To be clear, ESPN has engaged in no wrongful conduct and, thus, there is nothing to 'cease and desist.'"

This expansion could very likely trigger equal moves from the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12, as those leagues attempt to maintain a competitive and financial balance with the SEC. Adding Texas and Oklahoma could increase the SEC's annual revenue to roughly $1.3 billion during the 2024-25 fiscal year, according to research conducted by USA TODAY Sports.

The Longhorns and Sooners are inaugural members of the Big 12, which debuted in 1996. The conference began with 12 members before losing four during the 2011-12 college football realignment: Colorado to the Pac-12, Nebraska to the Big Ten and Missouri and A&M to the SEC. The Big 12 added TCU and West Virginia in response.

Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg