As Memphis Fans, we are very aware of how the business of college sports works and how the rules of the game change depending on how much power you have as a brand. It still lingers in the back of Tiger fans about the collapse of the Big East the year before we were ready to join or the shenanigans with UConn while they were in the AAC. College sports is a business and a lucrative one at that.
So when news broke yesterday about Texas and Oklahoma potentially joining the SEC, it didn't surprise many to see this was all just a money move. The SEC already has the 2nd highest yearly payout of any conference at around $42 million dollars, and by adding two of the largest brands in the country; it would easily make it the most valuable conference in college sports. Its deal with CBS expires in 2024, and with two huge fanbases added to an already lucrative brand, you'd see the big networks begging to get the rights to broadcast SEC games. As for Oklahoma and Texas, while the Big 12 payout was only 7 million dollars worst than what SEC was paying the status of the Big 12 from a financial standpoint is extremely troubling. The Big 12 reported the lowest revenue in the Power 5 at just $409.2 million dollars, almost 90 million worst than the 4th placed ACC(reported via U.S News). Also in May, the Big 12 was talking with ESPN and FOX about new deals in 2025 but both conferences were very hesitant at the idea for a variety of reasons(reported via 24/7). And with the payouts of the Big 12 in the future looking like it won't compare to some of the other schools, it makes sense why Texas and OU want to jump ship, and it makes sense why the SEC would love to have them on board.
For Memphis Athletics, the dream has always been to join a Power 5 conference. Ever since the Big 12 was looking at expansion many years ago, the path of our spending has been to elevate the Memphis Brand in order to gain membership into the conference. This news now makes that dream get very dicey. Nobody knows what the Big 12 would do if their two biggest schools jump shipped because nobody would be able to predict what the other 8 members would do. Does Kansas, Oklahoma St., West Virginia, etc. want to stay together and hope to make up the losses? Or would all of the other members jump ship as well and it becomes every man for themselves? How would ESPN, FOX, and other networks look at a Big 12 without the two big names? These are questions that would need to be answered before we could give an accurate assessment of what the future holds for us from a purely financial standpoint. So I'm going to go through a couple of potential scenarios.
A: Texas and Oklahoma do not leave for the Big 12
As of Thursday, July 22nd, this seems to be the least likely of the options just because of how quickly things have moved within the last day. But for the sake of this scenario let's say the following schools all veto Texas and Oklahoma: Texas A&M, Missouri, Arkansas, and LSU. This means the Big 12 is now in an awkward position where you have its two biggest schools actively looking at an exit plan. You'd have to make them happy, and I think expansion would be the only way you guarantee they just don't try talking to the B1G, ACC, or PAC. This is the best possible scenario for Memphis, as we would be one of the top candidates to be added if they were to move up to 12 or 14 teams. We get our Big 12 membership as we've wanted, but don't have to deal with a much weaker Big 12 from a financial standpoint. As for competition, I think the basketball team would find success immediatly as a slate with Kansas, Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Iowa St. would look awfully impressive to recruits and Penny's already shown to be able to land top guys. As for football, we might take a few years to catch up in terms of recruiting, but we could end up pushing for a new stadium on campus and completely change what Memphis football is capable of.
B: UT and OU leaves, other Big 12 Schools don't leave
I'd call this the 2nd most unlikely scenario, and definitely the most unlikely if the Horns and Sooners bolt. Then you get a Big 12 of the remaining 8 schools, who decide it's better to stick together than try their luck in other conferences. At that point, you have to expand in order to salvage any media deals with FOX or ESPN, which again would help Memphis because they might be lucking at a very large expansion of 6 schools to fill the void. Memphis in a conference with Oklahoma St., TCU., and Baylor is still more attractive from a money standpoint and could do a lot in terms of helping up expand even more as an athletics program. The question would be whether it remains a power 5 or a power 4, and that is entirely on what this new deal would look like with a media network. From a competitive standpoint, I think Memphis would be able to quickly rise to the top in football and basketball given the cash infusion within the program and the already strong state of our revenue sports.
C: The Big 12 Implodes
As of today, this seems the most evident. Whether Oklahoma or Texas joins the SEC or not I just can't imagine a scenario where either school is able to walk into the Big 12 and pretend nothing has happened. Texas is actively looking for an exit plan(as they seem to be the ones pressing this the most) and Oklahoma isn't going to sit around in a potentially dying conference. I also see this easily passing the SEC with only TAMU and Missouri saying no. Once OU and Texas leave, the Big 12 is done. Kansas, Iowa St., and Oklahoma St. are going to be pounding the doors of the Big 10 for inclusion. TCU, Baylor, and Texas Tech probably set their sights on a potential PAC-12 home, and West Virginia is asking the ACC to reconsider their membership. There's no way the other power conferences would just let the SEC get Texas and Oklahoma and not respond.
At that point, Memphis as a program is kinda stuck. Yes, it is very true that Memphis as a school is a lot more valuable than it was 7 years ago. But we'd go from competing with UCF and BYU for spots in the Power 4 to competing with known commodities and established power schools like Oklahoma State which is punching above our weight. I think this would firmly cement the AAC above the G5 as I imagine schools like Kansas State who can't find homes in the new P4 would look at the American as a home for their sports. So in the short term, we'd see some benefits as we'd got some stronger brands on the schedule and get some awesome fanbases added in(who wouldn't love a trip to Ames or Stillwater and see those fans?). But long term I think it'd set a firm cap on what Memphis can be in the scape of college sports, and especially football. For Memphis to reach the potential it can in all sports, it needs to be in a league where the payouts are higher that can be used to help continue growing the school and sports as we've seen over the years. Look how far we've grown with AAC money. But at some point, you become stagnant because the big 4 conferences are going to keep getting more money and Memphis would end up stuck with just what they have(see Boise St. and BYU as examples of what I'm talking about)
This could be the thing that finally forces the Big 12 to expand and get Memphis the rightful spot it's earned with the big boys of collegiate sports. And if that were the case this becomes an overwhelmingly positive development from the Memphis aspect of it. The AAC is paying out just 7 million per school, and look what we've done with that. Imagine what we could do with 35 million of the Big 12. However, this could also be the move that permanently keeps Memphis away from having a seat at the table. Nobody is going to be paying huge cash for a combo of the AAC and Big 12 leftovers, and not nearly to the extent of the super conferences. And while everybody involved with the university and athletic department deserves credit for what we've been able to accomplish you also have to imagine the ability to grow upon our success would become much more challenging in the future if the power conference route is no longer an option(barring some very unlikely scenarios of the AAC being worth 50 million per school). We're just going to have to be patient and hope the dices roll Memphis' way.