Oklahoma and Texas have agreed in principle to pay the Big 12 a total of $100 million to join the SEC in 2024, a year earlier than they had originally intended, the conference announced Thursday night.
The agreement is subject to the final approval from the Oklahoma and Texas governing boards. While the price tag, a fee that the league is describing as foregone distributable revenues, seems like a hefty amount to pay for the early exit, both schools are expected to be able to partially offset the cost with future revenues.
"As I have consistently stated, the conference would only agree to an early withdrawal if it was in our best interest for Oklahoma and Texas to depart prior to June 30, 2025," Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark said in a statement. "By reaching this agreement, we are now able to accelerate our new beginning as a 12-team league and move forward in earnest with our initiatives and future planning. I appreciate the approaches of OU President Joe Harroz and UT President Jay Hartzell to ensure an amicable conclusion to this process, and look forward to the bright days ahead for the Big 12 Conference."
On July 1, the Big 12 will officially add BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston and it will compete as a 14-team league for the upcoming season. Sources told ESPN recently that both parties were interested in finding a way for the schools to leave early, but when the athletic directors and presidents met last week in Dallas, there was no resolution. It was a quick change that even surprised some leadership within the league on Thursday afternoon.
Since the summer of 2021, speculation has run rampant that the Big 12's cofounders would leave early, but the finances have been at the heart of the discussions. The current Big 12 media rights deal expires in June 2025, and the television network negotiations reportedly stalled last week.
Two sources told ESPN that instead of multiple games and pick swaps, which were a big part of the initial negations, the agreement came down to cash. A portion of the more than $100 million in exit fees will go to Fox to compensate for the equivalent of seven lost Texas and Oklahoma football games.
A key part of the deal to let the two schools out early was a game flip of a nonconference matchup between Michigan and Texas, sources told ESPN. Texas will now visit Michigan in 2024 in Ann Arbor and Michigan will return the game in Austin in 2027, according to sources. That game had been scheduled to play out the opposite way. The flip was a key driver in Fox agreeing to the deal, per sources.
ESPN holds the entire rights to the SEC starting in 2024, which is the same season USC and UCLA are heading to the Big Ten and the College Football Playoff is expanding to 12 teams.
"Finding a satisfactory resolution to this matter that is fair to all parties, and best positions the Big 12 moving forward has been a top priority," commented Texas Tech University President and Big 12 Conference Board of Directors Chairman Lawrence Schovanec. "This agreement would not have occurred without the collaboration of the presidents and chancellors of all 10 Big 12 universities, and our tremendous partners at ESPN and FOX. I am very grateful for everyone's efforts to make today's announcement possible."
Texas president Jay Hartzell said the Longhorns are looking forward to completing a final 2023-24 season with "our friends and rivals."
"We have always been committed to fulfilling our contractual obligations to the Big 12," Hartzell said in a prepared statement. "The collegiate athletics landscape has continued to evolve rapidly, and working together to accelerate our exit produced benefits for all parties."
Oklahoma president Joseph Harroz Jr. said the decision allows everyone "to move ahead with clarity and certainty."
"With the new era of collegiate athletics fully upon us, an opportunity emerged for all parties involved to explore the value of an early departure," he said. "These terms further guarantee the sustainability, stability, competitiveness and excellence of us all. The exciting matchups and passionate rivalries of the past quarter century will always be a celebrated part of our shared history. We look forward to showcasing that intensity this season, next season and beyond."
ESPN's Pete Thamel contributed to this report.