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Ashway: Georgia and Oklahoma have come full circle
Denton Ashway
DENTON ASHWAY

It had to happen.

Georgia and Oklahoma had to wind up in the same conference eventually. After all, they are the two renegade schools which ushered in the modern era of college football a generation ago.

Those of a certain vintage remember the Dark Ages of College Football, which stretched all the way into the mid-‘80s. The time when the omnipotent NCAA decreed how many games could be televised, and how many times any school could grace the airwaves.

Usually there was one single game broadcast on any given Saturday. Occasionally there might be a Saturday doubleheader. Often there was no national game, just regional telecasts. In this case, fans transplanted to the northeast were denied Alabama-LSU in favor of the much more appealing Lehigh-Lafayette tilt. Imagine.

Thursday and Friday night games? In your dreams.

Eventually member institutions saw through the NCAA’s smokescreen and said, “This hardly seems fair.” It took Georgia and Oklahoma suing the NCAA to make the earth move. Turns out that arguing for the right of member schools to negotiate their own television deals was a piece of cake. The Supreme Court found the NCAA to be in violation of both the Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Acts.

At that point, the NCAA lost its control over college football. As a result, we now have dozens of games to watch every Saturday. You can literally watch college football right around the clock. Along with Thursday and Friday night games. And once November rolls around, we get MAC-tion on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, too.

Georgia and Oklahoma brought forth on our continent college football as big business. A never-ending battle of facility upgrades, multimillion-dollar coaches’ salaries, and unlimited recruiting budgets. Almost all of it underwritten by ever-more enriching broadcast rights fees, negotiated by conferences on behalf of their member institutions.

The evolution continued last week with the stunning rumor that Oklahoma and Texas were going to bolt the Big XII for the greener pastures of the SEC.

My initial thought, as a pragmatist, was that there’s nothing to this. No way OU and Texas could extricate themselves from their conference television commitments for four more years. Estimates for the cost of leaving the Big XII came in at about $38 million for each school. And do you really think independent-minded Texas would shut down the Longhorn Network, with a contract which runs for 10 more years?

Perhaps, ultimately, pragmatism will win out. Or OU and Texas will give the Big XII a chance to up the ante and keep them corralled. Over the weekend, the BIG XII executive committee met with the presidents of OU and Texas, with an eye toward that very end. ESPN described the meeting as “cordial.” That seems to confirm the rumors.

Likewise, those listening closely have heard no one deny the rumors. Various Big XII officials have called a pair of urgent meetings, the first of which neither OU nor Texas attended. Texas A&M even jumped into the news, declaring its decided lack of enthusiasm for another school from the Lone Star State becoming a member of the SEC.

Adding to the intrigue were reports that SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has been spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill of late. This provides as fascinating diversion. If OU and Texas were to join the SEC, bringing their overall athletic prowess and national appeal, the SEC wouldn’t really need the NCAA anymore, would it?

We’ve already discussed Mark Emmert’s lackluster leadership of the NCAA. He and his band of fools couldn’t get out in front of the name, image and likeness movement and formulate a coherent plan for the member schools to follow. Do you really think they’ll be a match for a 16-team powerhouse SEC?

Also interesting is the fact that this move comes just as the ACC, Big 10, and Pac-12 are breaking in brand-new commissioners. As they used to say in western movies, Sankey got the drop on all of ‘em.

If OU and Texas bolt to the SEC, the conference becomes a superpower. If we may mix metaphors to make a point, the SEC would be holding all the cards and calling all the shots. Besides the NFL and perhaps the NBA, what sports package might curry the more favor from the various networks during the bidding process?

The bottom line might just be the bottom line itself. The move of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC might create more riches, and power, than any school can turn down.

And for those who view the NCAA in its current incarnation as a pox upon college athletics, the good news is this move might be the NCAA’s death knell. It’s easy to envision the SEC simply telling the NCAA that its time has passed.

Who imagined when Georgia signed contracts to play Oklahoma and Texas in football that they’d wind up as conference games?

And who imagined when Georgia and Oklahoma sued the NCAA what it might lead to?