While Big 12 officials search for answers from Oklahoma and Texas about their possible departures to the SEC, the league made it clear on Thursday it expects its flagship programs to adhere to the conference bylaws and TV contracts that have been signed.
The Big 12 athletic directors and their university presidents and chancellors held a videoconference on Thursday evening to discuss the possible moves. Both OU and Texas were invited to the meeting but declined to participate in the call, sources said.
In a statement provided to ESPN, the Big 12 said, “There is a recognition that institutions may act in their own self-interest, however there is an expectation that members adhere to Conference bylaws and the enforcement of Grant of Rights agreements.”
The Big 12 bylaws require any withdrawing member to give the league at least 18 months’ notice. There also is a hefty exit fee — departing schools must pay the league a “commitment buyout fee,” which is an amount equal to the sum of distributions that otherwise would be paid to the school during the final two years of its membership. Exiting schools, according to the bylaws, “shall be deemed to have agreed to forfeit all distributions of any type that otherwise would have been made to the withdrawing member during the interim period” between the notice date and the actual departure date.
Last year, the Big 12 distributed about $38 million to its members, third-most among Power 5 conferences, so Texas and Oklahoma would owe about $76 million each.
It’s unclear whether both schools are aware of the repercussions, and they both declined comment beyond statements issued on Wednesday. One source said the Big 12 also discussed the possibility of finding more revenue for Texas and OU if their motivation to exit is driven by money.
OU and Texas also signed a Big 12 grant-of-rights agreement, in which they granted their first- and second-tier media rights for football and men’s basketball to the conference through June 30, 2025. That means the Big 12 would still own the schools’ media rights for those sports — even if they are no longer members — until the agreement expires.
During Thursday’s meeting, conference officials also scratched the surface on discussions of what the Big 12 might do if OU and Texas left, and one source said that included looking into whether there were other Power 5 programs that might want to join, or if schools like UCF, Houston, Cincinnati or BYU might make good additions. There was some appetite in the meeting for possibly adding two teams even if OU and Texas decide to stay.
None of those conversations gained significant traction, though, because the next step is figuring out the intents of OU and Texas — and their motivation.
One source said the next 48 hours will be critical to answering that.
“We need answers sooner than later,” one source said, “and we don’t have any answers right now.”
In the statement provided to ESPN following the meeting, the Big 12 said “the eight members strongly desire to retain the current composition, which has proven it can compete at the highest levels.
“This is a time of dramatic change within intercollegiate athletics that presents both opportunities and challenges, and the Big 12 Conference looks forward to continuing to play a major role in its evolution.”