Two collegiate powerhouses seemingly hope to capitalize on Texas A&M’s recent football success.
According to a “high-ranking college official with knowledge of the situation,” both the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners have reportedly “reached out” to the SEC about potentially joining the conference.
First detailed by Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle, the two teams are looking to leave the Big 12 and officially make the SEC a 16-team “super conference.”
And who can blame them? Since the founding of the College Football Playoffs in 2014, the Southeastern Conference has become the premier league for trophy winners in collegiate football. In fact, only one championship game has failed to include an appearance from at least one SEC team, and the conference has claimed over half of the national titles during this time.
For many, including A&M football head coach Jimbo Fisher, the apparent news is no surprise. After the 2020 season, Oklahoma players and fans alike felt like the team was wrongfully left out of the playoffs, with some going as far to claim they would have been selected had the crimson and cream been in a different conference. Either way, the Aggies finished with a better record and standing than the Sooners.
"I bet they would [like to join],” Fisher said at this year’s SEC Media Days.
Then there’s Texas. Though the Longhorns have experienced recent success in collegiate athletics, football has not been a highlight, with the team not having won more than five conference games in a single season since 2018. A transition to the SEC, and subsequent rivalry revival with A&M, would at least give the burnt orange something to talk about.
Fisher was not alone in holding an opinion of distaste regarding the situation. A&M Director of Athletics Ross Bjork said he doesn’t like the idea of the Longhorns trying to ride the coattails of Southeastern Conference’s success.
"We want to be the only SEC program in the state of Texas,” Bjork said. “There's a reason Texas A&M left the Big 12 — to stand alone to have our own identity."
Following the news break, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was questioned about the potential conference expansion, but had little to say.
“No comment on that speculation,” Sankey said.
The two universities were not far behind in following suit.
“We will not address rumors or speculation,” a Texas spokesman said to the Houston Chronicle.
“The college athletics landscape is shifting constantly,” OU said in a statement shortly after. “We don't address every anonymous rumor."
The possibility of change brings up further questions. For years now, both Texas’s and Oklahoma’s football programs have pushed to potential recruits that the Big 12 is the “place to be” for those that want to take their game to the next level. In fact, when A&M left the Big 12 in favor of the SEC in 2012, Texas reportedly went as far as encouraging other teams not to play the Aggies in athletics competition.
“They left,” then-Texas Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds said in 2013. “Our fans are important to us. I think there’s too many hard feelings.”
So why go back on their words and look into joining the same conference which they talked down upon A&M for joining?
All things considered, the Sooners and Longhorns both need the Southeastern Conference far more than the conference needs them. In the most recent collegiate football season, two SEC squads, Alabama and Texas A&M, finished ahead of the two Big 12 teams in the AP Top 25 final rankings. Plus, even with a potential CFP expansion on the horizon, the Southeastern Conference has no reason to risk further limiting the representation of its current teams by adding two more.
Fisher said he is not interested either way, regardless of a conference expansion or lack thereof. Instead, he is focused on ensuring the 2021 season will live up to, and even surpass, the expectations held by the 12th Man nationwide.
“I'm just worried about Texas A&M,” Fisher said. “We got the greatest league in ball. I’ll control what I want to control here."