College football fans across the country heard the news of Texas and Oklahoma asking to join the SEC and everyone had takes. The discourse surrounding their move to the SEC (happening in 2025) primarily focuses on college football – a major revenue generating sport. Realignment whispers have slowly gotten louder, so the natural progression involves talks of super conferences and the structure of the College Football Playoff. All of this is fine and dandy, but let’s dig into something twits and self-proclaimed college sports experts are ignoring, the impact on all the other sports that are part of an athletic department.
Before we dive into the Olympic sports (the sports that really, really got left out of the conversation), let’s just get a baseline understanding of what makes up a Division I (D1) athletics program. For a school to hold the title of D1, it must:
- Have a minimum of 14 teams (seven mens and seven womens, OR six mens and eight womens – shoutout Title IX)
- Have a minimum of two team sports for both men and women
- Provide athletic scholarships
- Schedule enough competitions to meet each sports requirements
- Require student-athletes to maintain a certain GPA and take a course load minimum
Even for schools that meet the minimum number of teams to be D1, the majority of the teams are not football (yes, math is my passion), yet the conversations around creating a super conference of D1 teams predominately focus on football. Meaning the big monster that no one wants to talk about is money. Money drives these decisions, especially for teams in Power 5 (P5) conferences looking to shimmy over into a different conference. The grass isn’t always greener, but money sure is and college football is a business (Gordon Gecko probably had something to say about this). So if decisions stem from the money to be gained in the world of college football but schools have 13-20-something other teams to worry about, where does it leave those other teams?
Of course, the other teams will still compete against both non-conference and conference opponents, but the issue of where they land on the hierarchy of their college athletics program comes into question. The lack of commentary about non-football sports further highlights the money motivation of moving conferences. More importantly, it implies that the other sports were not considered at all when making decisions that could financially benefit their programs. Little to no mention of these sports, teams, and athletes when discussing two big athletic programs moving into a stacked conference is an issue. Of the 176,000 ish D1 athletes, roughly 28,270 play football or about 16%. Texas and Oklahoma will bring about 220 football players to the SEC and hundreds of other athletes – golf, swim, gymnastics, wrestling, basketball, and more included. These athletes should benefit from the move, and they should be talked about since they make up the majority of each school’s athletic program.
Both Texas and Oklahoma have strong programs for Olympics sports, and yet mainstream media is hyper-focused on football. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the discussions within the confines of college football, but for the greater college athletics conversation, we need to be talking about the opportunities or challenges non-football programs could face. Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC will serve as a case study for a new era of college athletics, where cash rules everything and the players finally have some ability to get in on the money making (thanks to NIL). This alignment will also lay the groundwork for super conferences and show the impact on non-football sports programs. College athletics (read: football and basketball) may be a business but ultimately serve as a place for amateur athletes to flourish, including those of non-football or basketball programs. Money unfortunately matters, but there’s a way to be inclusive of all these other sports when talking realignment because it just means more.