How Would Texas, Oklahoma Moving To The SEC Impact College Baseball?
Oklahoma and Texas this week took another step toward joining the SEC by formally requesting to join the league in July 2025. It was the latest move as the two schools seek to orchestrate a move from the Big 12 to the SEC, news that first broke last week and is now rapidly moving to completion.
Oklahoma and Texas have been members of the Big 12 since the conference was created in 1996 when four members of the Southwestern Conference (Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech) joined the Big Eight (Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State). The Longhorns and Sooners are two of the biggest brands in college sports and have long been cornerstones of the Big 12, even as it has undergone significant changes over the last decade.
Now, Oklahoma and Texas are headed to the SEC, which is already one of the two richest conferences in the country. The addition of those two schools will expand its membership to 16 and only further entrench it as one of the biggest conferences in college sports.
As is the case with any conference realignment, baseball is not the driving factor for these moves. But it is along for the ride. So, what are the effects on the diamond of such a significant change? We examine from a few points of view.
The SEC is strengthened
The SEC was already college baseball’s premier conference. The conference has had a team in 11 of the last 12 College World Series finals and won three of the last four national titles. It didn’t need to add Texas—one of the best college baseball programs in the nation—to maintain that position. But that’s what it did.
The Longhorns have made more CWS appearances than any school in the nation and won six national championships, more than any school but Southern California (12). Texas is the last Big 12 program to reach the CWS finals (2009, losing to Louisiana State) and win the national title (2005, beating Florida). The Longhorns have been to Omaha in two of the last three seasons and rank No. 1 in the earliest iteration of the 2022 Top 25. In short, Texas will fit right in with premier SEC programs like Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.
Oklahoma has a solid baseball tradition itself. The Sooners have won two national titles and have been to Omaha 10 times, though they have made just one trip in the last 25 years (2010). Oklahoma isn’t at that premium level, but its addition does deepen the league.
The SEC has thus far been unable to crack a ceiling of 10 NCAA Tournament bids in one season. But with these additions—especially Texas—the record should be attainable with even more of the best teams concentrated in the same conference.
The Big 12 is weakened
Even setting aside for a second the destabilizing elements of the moves for the Big 12, the moves are not good for the conference’s baseball outlook. Texas is one of the sport’s premier programs and the only member of the conference to play for or win a national championship in the 21st century.
There are also now serious concerns about the future of the Big 12. The eight remaining schools—Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Christian, Texas Tech and West Virginia—are in a difficult position as they eye negotiations of their television contract in the next few years. Having reportedly been caught off guard by the defections of Oklahoma and Texas, that group now must decide whether or not to expand and each individual school must determine if there is a better (or more lucrative) fit than the Big 12.
If the Big 12 can hold together the seven remaining baseball members (Iowa State doesn’t have a baseball program), it will still have a solid conference. Texas Tech under Tim Tadlock has become a powerhouse and has reached the CWS four times in the last six seasons. TCU is entering a new era after Jim Schlossnagle this summer was hired away by Texas A&M and Kirk Saarloos was hired to replace him, but the elements for the Horned Frogs to remain a power are still in place. Oklahoma State this year opened O’Brate Stadium, a glittering $60 million facility, and has been consistently strong under Josh Holliday. Baylor and West Virginia have both had their moments in recent seasons.
One further concern for the Big 12’s baseball programs is that most of the expansion candidates that have been publicly bandied about would increase travel. For a conference that already stretches from Morgantown, W.V., to Lubbock, Texas, that isn’t an insignificant consideration.
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Texas joins elite competition
How the SEC will divide up a 16-team conference remains to be seen, but no matter how it happens, Texas is going to be a part of a lot of high-profile games and series on an annual basis.
While the Longhorns would likely lose traditional matchups with TCU and Texas Tech, they will retain their rivalry with Oklahoma and rekindle their series with Texas A&M. Regular series against Arkansas, an old SWC foe, and LSU figure to be fixtures on the calendar.
For college baseball fans, those are weekend series that should be marquee matchups on a near annual basis. Texas doesn’t need the added prominence of a conference series against LSU to be one of the biggest programs in the country, but it won’t hurt.
Texas is going to find that winning SEC titles is incredibly difficult. Just ask Arkansas—it won its first this season, 30 years after leaving the SWC. But winning conference titles only matters so much in baseball. Playing in the SEC provides a strong platform for what Texas cares about the most—going to Omaha and winning national titles.
Oklahoma needs to get more serious if it wants to compete
The Sooners have a baseball tradition. They won the national championship in 1951 and 1994. They’ve been to the NCAA Tournament five times in the last decade. They made it to Omaha in 2010.
But they also have now missed regionals in back-to-back seasons, haven’t won a conference regular-season title since 1995 and have made just one CWS appearance in the last 25 years.
There are a lot of reasons why Oklahoma hasn’t competed at the top level of the sport as much this century. But, for the most part, it comes down to investment. L. Dale Mitchell Ballpark is 40 years old, and Oklahoma has plans for a $10 million renovation in the works. But, for now, it won’t match up with the average SEC stadium. Oklahoma also would rank last in baseball coach salary, according to 2020 data from Athletic Director U.
Baseball isn’t the reason why Oklahoma is headed to the SEC, but if it wants to have a competitive program in its new conference, it will need to give itself a fighting chance.
College sports—including baseball—are at a crossroads
A lot around college sports has changed this summer. Through new rules, athletes can profit from their name, image and likeness—allowing them to sign endorsement deals and otherwise capitalize on their fame. All athletes are now eligible to transfer once without having to sit out a year. NCAA president Mark Emmert suggested to a group of reporters that it might be better if instead of having the same blanket rules for all sports across all three divisions there was a more individual approach for each sport. Now, two of the biggest brands in college sports are preparing to change conferences, a move that threatens to set off a chain reaction of realignment.
That leaves college sports overall, and baseball more specifically, at a critical point. The whole enterprise of college sports is changing and anything and everything seems to be on the table.
Perhaps the Big 12 will find a few new members, sign a sizable new TV contract when its rights expire in 2025 and everything will go on about as it has. Perhaps this is the first step toward the richest athletic departments breaking free from the NCAA. Probably it is something in between.
For some within college baseball, there is a hope that between a further concentration of the most invested athletic departments and Emmert’s comments about individual sport governance that a path to a bigger and better sport is opening. Many of college baseball’s “haves” are willing to invest more in the sport—increasing the maximum number of scholarships from 11.7 and adding a full-time assistant coach to staffs, as a start. But they have been unable to advance those initiatives.
In an environment where more power lies with conferences than with the NCAA, a super-charged SEC—which already pushes the envelope in college baseball—would probably help lead to those big, wish-list items. That, however, may well come at the expense of many smaller programs competing at the highest level.
All of that remains well down the road, however. College sports are still in the early stages of their latest round of realignment upheaval. Until the dust settles, it’s hard to know what the fallout on and off the diamond will be.