SEC commish excited to expand conference, rekindle rivalries

With Oklahoma and Texas now scheduled to leave the Big 12 and join the SEC in 2024, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told ESPN on Friday he's looking forward to seeing some rivalries renewed, but also acknowledged that building the schedule for a 16-team conference needs to be done over the next three months.

Recent conference realignment, which includes USC and UCLA heading to the Big Ten in 2024, and Houston, UCF, Cincinnati and BYU joining the Big 12 this fall, will drastically change the college football footprint, but Sankey said SEC expansion is "really unique" because "we restore rivalries."

"Obviously you think about Texas A&M and Texas," he said, "but the Arkansas-Texas history, Oklahoma and Missouri -- the SEC will now have a quarter of the former Big Eight members in our league."

The next step is figuring out how often they'll play each other, and how many conference opponents they'll face.

SEC athletic directors had hoped to determine their future scheduling model last May at league spring meetings in Destin, Florida, but ultimately decided to wait because more changes in college athletics appeared to be on the horizon. The College Football Playoff was still mulling a 12-team format at the time, the Big Ten was on the brink of cementing its new blockbuster media rights deal, and a change in Big 12 conference leadership was pending with the hiring of commissioner Brett Yormark.

"We chose not to make a quick decision, wanting more information," Sankey said. "Obviously we have a lot more information now than we even predicted in May, but we're in a situation where between now and our Destin meetings we need to bring this to conclusion. We've done great groundwork on research, on priorities, on examining options, and we'll need in the near future to bring to conclusion the conversation."

Sankey has been open about the conference favoring a single-division model, and after OU and Texas initially announced in July 2021 their intent to leave the Big 12, he encouraged conference leadership to rotate teams throughout the league "with greater frequency."

"When we went through our initial conversations with athletic directors and then a set of one-on-one interviews, the priorities of balance and fairness in our schedule were identified for us," he said. "Those have to be defined and those are competitive balance in that rotation frequency. How we format the number of games, those are still decisions that need to be made. "We also know that there are really unique rivalries that ought to be honored as part of this process, and that's in this consideration," he said. "Won't predict an outcome. We've got some more data to gather, some more information to share that will help guide our decision-making in the next 90 days."

The SEC had been planning for OU and Texas to join the league in 2025, Sankey said, because it wanted to be respectful to the Big 12 media agreements and its grant of rights. He reiterated it was "the Big 12's decision-making, not ours," but having clarity now is helpful to the decision-making process.

"Now we can turn the page," he said. "A lot's going to happen in the '24 year already. We're always going to be prepared for who knows what else people may decide around us, but we're looking forward to being a 16-team league."