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The College Football Landscape Is Going To Look Vastly Different Come 2025

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The college football landscape is going to look vastly different come 2025. On Friday, the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma both accepted invitations to join the powerhouse Southeastern Conference, the SEC. They will be leaving the Big 12 Conference. Now, among the things at stake, how fans get to watch teams compete on TV. In other words, billions of dollars and media rights. And a lot of folks are not happy. Nicole Auerbach covers college football for The Athletic and joins us now.

Hey, Nicole.

NICOLE AUERBACH: Hi. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: So we should point out Texas and Oklahoma wanted this. They asked for this, to leave the Big 12 and join the SCC. As briefly as you can put it, why?

AUERBACH: Well, the briefest way is to say just money. The SEC is going to pay its schools the most. Everyone has renegotiations, has media rights deals coming up or just come up. And the SEC is incredibly well positioned to continue to cash in with the biggest brands in college football. And Texas and Oklahoma were doing fine. They really were. But there's more money to be had in the SEC.

KELLY: How crushing a loss is this for the Big 12?

AUERBACH: Oh, it's majorly crushing. I mean, you're talking about the linchpins of the Big 12 conference, the biggest brands, the anchors. And you can already see, based on, you know, industry experts, that the value of that group of schools drops off considerably when you take Texas and Oklahoma out of the equation.

KELLY: Now, I want to bring in ESPN and its role here. ESPN owns the SEC Network. ESPN also shares a deal to broadcast Big 12 games. And the Big 12 commissioner, Bob Bowlsby, has accused the network of conspiring to pick apart his conference in order to benefit the SEC. ESPN denies that. What is your read on this?

AUERBACH: It's very complicated. This is clearly turning in to be a very ugly divorce. And it's so rare that you would hear a sitting conference commissioner go after one of their broadcast partners. But he's doing that because, again, this comes down to money. Texas and Oklahoma, they're bound to the grant of rights until 2025. The question is, if the rest of the league falls apart, well, then Texas and Oklahoma wouldn't owe people as much money.

KELLY: How does this fit into some of the broader changes underway? Speaking of money, speaking of college sports, I'm thinking the recent decision to let athletes profit off their own name and likeness, for example. There's a whole lot of change underway here.

AUERBACH: It's a transformative time in college sports. And I don't think that it's a coincidence that the SEC is making this power grab in an era where the NCAA has never been weaker. They want to position themselves to determine their own future, to chart their own course and not wait for more lawsuits to go all the way to the Supreme Court or for the NCAA to change and make rules after committee after committee after committee.

KELLY: I can't let you go without actually asking about football. What does this mean for people who just really want to watch good college football?

AUERBACH: There's good college football in the SEC. I mean, every time this happens, it becomes more challenging, A, for people like myself to even just remember what leagues and divisions everyone is in, but also for fans because you're moving to a conference that's a lot further away, and it's harder and maybe more expensive to go to games. And there are new rivalries, and there's not that, you know, steeped in tradition. So it just - it sucks. And the balance across the country gets affected by that. And it's just - it's not great.

KELLY: Nicole Auerbach, senior writer for The Athletic.

Thanks, Nicole.

AUERBACH: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANZ FERDINAND SONG, "SHOPPING FOR BLOOD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.