Carlson: Why OU would move to the SEC even if it means sacrificing some Sooner successes
When Giselle Juarez squeezed that shallow fly ball to end the Women’s College World Series, it set off a wild celebration, Oklahoma teammates spilling out of the Hall of Fame Stadium dugout, Sooner fans roaring their approval.
That moment a little over a month ago also meant the OU athletic department had another academic year with a national championship.
It had been a long time — the Sooners went without in 2019-20.
Oh, I know that’s only one year, and it was a year marred by the pandemic with national titles awarded in neither winter nor spring sports. But still, OU athletics had made such a habit of not letting a year go by without a national title — it won nine from 2015-16 till 2018-19 — going a year without seemed like a drought.
A wandering in the wilderness.
Norman, you see, has been a land flowing with milk and honey and rings of late.
Which brings us to the news of the week (summer? year?): OU is considering leaving the Big 12.
Why, oh, why, you may ask, would the Sooners want to mess with such a good thing?
The national titles, after all, aren’t the only hallmark of these halcyon days at OU. The Sooners are winning conference titles in bunches, both in men’s and women’s sports. They are big fish in the Big 12 pond, both on the field and behind the scenes.
Why futz with that?
Or to better represent what could be on the table if OU goes to the SEC and brings Red River rival Texas along — money, money, money, money money.
Every major conference in the country does annual payouts to member schools, a lion’s share of which comes from broadcast contracts. We don’t know what kind of deal the SEC could get from its broadcast partners if OU and Texas were added, but we can guess that it would be a huge bump.
The last time the SEC issued payouts to schools, each got $44 million.
By comparison, Big 12 schools got $38 million.
But estimates indicate adding OU and Texas to the SEC could increase those annual payouts to as much as $60 million.
That could $16 million more for the current SEC schools.
For OU and Texas, it could be $22 million more.
That is not an insignificant amount of money. If the difference in payouts was $8 million or $10 million, it might not be enough to entice them to leave the Big 12. Might not be enough to convince SEC types to go along with the expansion either. But $16 million to $22 million is big money even at big-money schools like Alabama and Georgia, OU and Texas.
But if OU moves, would Sooners of all stripes be able to continue this golden age?
I assume not.
Every conference crown would be more difficult to win, save perhaps men’s and women’s basketball which is already difficult for anyone not at Baylor or Kansas. Football would be tougher. Ditto for softball, baseball, gymnastics, volleyball, track, golf.
While winning the conference would be tougher, the improved competition wouldn’t be all bad.
Consider how hard it was this past season for Sooner softball coach Patty Gasso to find good opponents for her team. She and her bosses did their darnedest to find games against top-tier teams. They wanted to challenge their high-powered offense. They hoped to improve their strength of schedule. But it proved difficult.
Strength of schedule wouldn’t be a problem in the SEC where Alabama and Florida are powers and all the other softball programs can beat you on any given day.
But still, moving to the SEC would mean OU would have to accept less success, not just in softball but in every sport. Less victories. Less conference titles.
Less national titles?
That’s anyone’s guess, but it sure doesn’t feel like the opportunities to play for them would go down for the crimson and cream. I realize the dynamics would change, and it would change most for OU football. It would go from dominant force in the Big 12 to mere perennial contender in the SEC. But the SEC has regularly had two teams in the College Football Playoff, so the Sooners would not be without a path to the promise land.
And truthfully, I suspect expansion is coming to the playoff. If it grows to 12 teams, the SEC might get three teams regularly and four teams occasionally. That would mean the Sooners would still have a great chance of being in the playoff AND would have an extra $22 million or so in the coffers every year.
That is why OU is considering upsetting the apple cart.
Sure, it loves how things are going right now. All the success. All the clout. But the school’s decision makers are doing the calculus on trading some of the spoils of this golden age for something else that glitters.
Lots of it.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.