Oklahoma and Texas officially notified the Big 12 on Monday that they will not be renewing their grants of media rights after their expiration in 2025, according to a joint statement released by both schools.
"Providing notice to the Big 12 at this point is important in advance of the expiration of the conference's current media rights agreement," the statement said. "The universities intend to honor their existing grant of rights agreements. However, both universities will continue to monitor the rapidly evolving collegiate athletics landscape as they consider how best to position their athletics programs for the future."
Big 12 sources told ESPN on Monday that the statement leaves some "wiggle room" and doesn't fully guarantee that the flagship schools would remain in the league through 2025. The possibility remains that they will pay the $75-80 million penalty for leaving early, while also giving the required 18 months' notice, per Big 12 bylaws. Some have speculated that this is the first legal maneuver, and the possibility also exists that if the Big 12 dissolves before 2025, OU and Texas would no longer be bound to stay through the duration of the contract.
"Although our eight members are disappointed with the decisions of these two institutions, we recognize that intercollegiate athletics is experiencing rapid change and will most likely look much different in 2025 than it does currently," commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement. "The Big 12 Conference will continue to support our member institutions' efforts to graduate student-athletes, and compete for Big 12 and NCAA championships. Like many others, we will use the next four years to fully assess what the landscape will look like in 2025 and beyond. The remaining eight institutions will work together in a collaborative manner to thoughtfully and strategically position the Big 12 Conference for continued success, both athletically and academically, long into the future."
The next step would be for Oklahoma and Texas to formally let the SEC know they want to join the conference. Then the SEC would need 11 of its 14 presidents and chancellors to agree to extend an invitation to the two schools. Big 12 officials are wondering if and when that might happen.
SEC athletic directors were scheduled to participate in their weekly call Monday afternoon -- a call that had been rescheduled because of the league media days.
The Big 12 executive committee met with the presidents of Texas and Oklahoma on Sunday, and sources have told ESPN they are still trying to understand exactly what Oklahoma and Texas are looking for.
OU and Texas officials were not immediately available for comment.
The Longhorns and Sooners, bitter rivals on the field, became partners off the field in announcing their intent to explore bolting the league they helped co-found 25 years ago, with OU and the Big Eight joining with four Texas teams from the dissolving Southwest Conference. Monday's notice is the first step in what could end up being a split between the Big 12 and its two most valuable properties, which have reportedly been targeting a move to the SEC.
There was no immediate word on how this move would affect basketball and other non-football sports, but the expectation is they would also ultimately follow their football programs out of the Big 12. That potentially leaves Kansas, one of the blueblood programs of men's basketball, and Baylor, the reigning men's basketball national champion, in peril along with the rest of the Big 12 as it navigates how to survive.
The move might be costly for Oklahoma and Texas. Under Big 12 bylaws, they have to give the league 18 months' notice that they're leaving. The two schools signed agreements with the Big 12 in 2012 that granted their first- and second-tier media rights to the league through June 30, 2025, and the Big 12 would own their rights until the deal expires -- even if they leave.
The league's bylaws state that departing schools agree to forfeit two years' of media distributions, which might be as much as $75 million for each. It wasn't immediately clear whether the remaining Big 12 schools would negotiate some sort of settlement to allow them to leave earlier.
The Big 12 had been especially hospitable to the Sooners, who won 14 conference championships in football, including the past six straight. The Longhorns, meanwhile, found the league hospitable in other ways, most notably in that it allowed them to hold on to enough of their media rights to have their own television property, the Longhorn Network, a partnership with ESPN. The Longhorns won three league titles, including the first one in 1996.
The departures would be a major blow to the Big 12, which previously lost Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-12 in 2011, and then Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC in 2012. The league already had to get a waiver from the NCAA in order to have a championship game with just 10 members, and would have to find replacements for two of college football's most storied programs. It could potentially also have to protect its remaining schools from being poached by other leagues.
A split would have historic ramifications, including jeopardizing the Bedlam rivalry between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, which has been played 115 times, dating to 1904.
"We are disappointed by the lack of engagement and transparency from our colleagues at OU over the past months on a matter with serious ramifications for our state," Oklahoma State president Kayse Shrum said on Twitter on Friday. "We have historically worked together to advance our state and address issues based on a partnership built on trust."
Baylor released a joint statement from president Linda A. Livingstone and athletic director Mack Rhoades saying "it is critical to our economy and Texas' overall reputation to maintain five 'Power Five' institutions, reinforcing the Lone Star State's athletic preeminence."
SEC expansion could be the first step toward what many throughout the industry foresee as three or four superconferences, and would make the already-dominant SEC even stronger. Alabama and LSU have combined to win four of the seven College Football Playoff national championships since 2015; the league has had at least one team in the CFP every season since its inception. With the sport trending toward a 12-team playoff format, the league could place even more teams in the field -- a possibility that concerns other power brokers throughout college football and could alter their opinion of the CFP's proposal at a critical time in their summer feasibility study.
CFP executive director Bill Hancock told ESPN on Monday that the summer feasibility study of a 12-team playoff proposal is still on track. The CFP management committee, which comprises the 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, is scheduled to meet in late September with the 11 presidents and chancellors who have the ultimate authority over the playoff format.
"The timeline hasn't changed," Hancock said in a brief phone interview from Tokyo, where he is volunteering for the Olympics. "The conferences are still gathering feedback from their presidents, athletic directors, coaches, faculty and players."
If this is another step toward superconferences under the CFP purview, it's worth noting the operational differences between football and non-football sports. The NCAA currently controls and operates the men's and women's basketball tournaments, along with every other non-football competition, while the College Football Playoff controls the FBS postseason.
An SEC official told ESPN this week that the league's current scheduling format would have to be revamped with the addition of Oklahoma and Texas. Some sort of "pod" system would likely replace the current East and West divisions, and the teams would likely play more than eight conference games each season in the future.
ESPN's Heather Dinich, Mark Schlabach, Dave Wilson and Jeff Borzello contributed to this report.