Those less than enthusiastic about the move, including lawmakers, point to UT’s billions in public endowment funds as potential recourse for the “secrecy” from which this has developed and aim to require legislative input for the move.
Rumors of the potential departure reached the Houston Chronicle from a high-ranking university official according to an article the paper published Wednesday.
It would also weaken the finances of the remaining Big 12 schools, some of which have expressed public displeasure with the rumors. Texas and Oklahoma, which is also reportedly part of the conference jump, are the two cash cows of the Big 12.
Both universities released cautious but vague statements in response to the rumors.
“Speculation swirls around collegiate athletics. We will not address rumors or speculation,” a Texas spokesman reportedly stated.
Without those two giants, specifically their football programs, the other eight schools would likely be up creek without a paddle.
“We have heard unconfirmed reports that OU and UT approached Southeastern Conference officials about joining the SEC,” Oklahoma State University stated after the news circulated.
“We are gathering information and will monitor closely. If true we would be gravely disappointed. While we place a premium on history, loyalty and trust, be assured, we will aggressively defend and advance what is best for Oklahoma State and our strong athletic program, which continues to excel in the Big 12 and nationally.”
Texas Tech Chancellor Tedd Mitchell likewise said he was “extremely disappointed” to hear the news.
“Like many across our state and within the footprint of our league, I’ve been extremely disappointed by the actions and intentions of our friends in Austin and Norman. From day one of the Big 12 Conference’s existence, Texas Tech has been a proud and trustworthy partner,” Mitchell wrote.
But leaders of the suddenly homeless universities were not the only miffed parties — public officials jumped into the fray, too.
Several Texas Republican lawmakers criticized the potential move. State Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), a Baylor University graduate, even promised to craft legislation to require legislative approval for UT to “bolt the BIG XII.”
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), a former college athlete at Texas Christian University, reportedly joined Leach, Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), and Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), a Texas Tech graduate, in asking Governor Greg Abbott to intervene and stop the move.
Burrows suggested that the state take some of UT’s share of the Permanent University Fund (PUF) and use it to buy down property tax rates across the state. As of June, the PUF’s net asset value is pegged at over $30 billion. The University of Texas system is statutorily given two-thirds of the fund’s distribution and Texas A&M, which made the SEC jump a decade ago, is allotted the other third.
On Friday, Burrow, Bonnen, and a number of other legislators filed legislation that would require Texas schools to get legislative approval before switching conferences. It already has 30 coauthors, according to Burrows.
The addition of UT and OU to the SEC would make it a 14-team league. Those remaining in the Big 12, three of which are Texas schools, are now scrambling to figure out their next move whether it be bringing in replacement schools or dissolving the conference entirely and splintering off into various other conferences.
Though UT and OU haven’t yet confirmed the rumors, the SEC reportedly plans to extend a formal invitation to them sometime next week, according to The Athletic. Eleven schools would have to vote for their admission.
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