The University of Missouri was one of the original Big 12 Conference expats. Ten years on from when it left the league, it could possibly reap an even bigger reward in the coming years.
In a move that has shaken the college athletics landscape, Texas and Oklahoma announced through a joint statement Monday that they would not renew their Big 12 grant of media rights that expire in 2025, clearing the way for the two to apply for membership to the Southeastern Conference. Texas and Oklahoma were the Nos. 1 and 8 highest-revenue college athletics programs in the country in 2018-19, and their departure will undoubtedly create a Big 12 revenue shortfall that will result in the conference scrambling to fill the void — if it even remains a league.
But the Big 12’s loss is the SEC’s gain. And Mizzou’s.
Since the Tigers joined from the Big 12 along with Texas A&M for the 2012-13 school year, the dollar amounts coming to Columbia have been much more lucrative than they were a decade ago, even with the impact of COVID-19 over the past year-and-a-half.
If the SEC is indeed the conference where Texas and Oklahoma are headed, they can examine Missouri as a test subject for how the move from the Big 12 will go. According to the College Athletics Financial Information (CAFI) Database conducted by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, Missouri’s total athletic revenues increased by 37% from 2005 (the earliest record in the database) to 2011 (MU’s final full year in the Big 12), well behind the SEC’s median growth of 61%. Over the course of 2012 to 2019 in the SEC, Missouri’s athletic revenues increased by 110%.
Among “Power 5” conferences, the SEC ranked second in fiscal year 2019-20 revenue at $729 million (about $45.3 million per school), a slight increase from 2018-19, even after the pandemic wreaked havoc on the college football landscape for a portion of the year. That figure was behind only the Big Ten, along with being on top of a supplemental revenue program — at $23 million per school — to offset the financial impact of COVID-19.
Meanwhile in the Big 12, revenues decreased to $37.7 million for each school in 2019-20 and went down again to $34.5 million in 2020-21 for a total of $345 million, the lowest mark among Power 5 schools. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and the league’s board also did not institute a supplemental relief program, offering instead to help schools on a case-by-case basis.
In short, money talks. And if Texas and Oklahoma are indeed off to the SEC, it could result in the talks getting more and more lucrative.
Disney in December purchased total SEC football television rights to begin in 2024, a 10-year deal that will feature all of the league’s biggest games (CBS had rights to one game a week) on its networks, including ABC and ESPN. The deal is reportedly worth $300 million, a massive increase from the $55 million CBS deal, and is expected to bump the league’s annual distribution to its members to about $68 million. With the addition of two more powerhouses to the fray, it could leverage the league to make that figure rise even more.
A report in The Athletic projected that by 2026, the gap between a SEC and Big 12 school in annual revenue distribution would be about $16 million — and that was assuming Texas and Oklahoma would still be Big 12 members. If the new perception from Disney is that the value in college football rights is with more SEC and less Big 12, that could propel the SEC to becoming the new wealthiest league in the land.
The biggest question that remains, however, is if Texas and Oklahoma are willing to wait for the media rights deal they’re tethered to expire. Leaving the league before the deal runs out would leave the two subjected to more than $100 million in costs to get out of that grant of rights, but lawyer negotiations (or a rapid collapse of the Big 12’s remaining membership) could make those costs manageable ... as well as get the two programs out sooner.
Instability in the Big 12 played a major part in Missouri’s departure from the league a decade ago, with Texas’ 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN to create the Longhorn Network instigating the departures of Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M and eventually Missouri after years of contempt for the Big 12’s most prominent national brand. Years later, it is now Texas — along with its biggest rival — that seeks different pastures.
Missouri, meanwhile, is just along for the ride.