The 14 SEC presidents and chancellors voted unanimously on Thursday to extend invitations to Big 12 co-founders Oklahoma and Texas to join the league, leaving one final formality before the deal is done: OU and Texas have to officially accept the offer, which could happen as soon as Friday.
"Today's unanimous vote is both a testament to the SEC's longstanding spirit of unity and mutual cooperation, as well as a recognition of the outstanding legacies of academic and athletic excellence established by the Universities of Oklahoma and Texas,'' SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said.
The board of regents for both Texas and Oklahoma have scheduled separate special meetings Friday morning in which athletic conference membership will be discussed. Oklahoma's regents will meet in Oklahoma City, and Texas' regents will meet via conference call.
The next step is to determine when the move will become a reality and what happens to the eight schools left behind. On Monday, Texas and Oklahoma issued a joint statement saying they intend to remain in the Big 12 through June 30, 2025, when the current Big 12 media rights deal expires, but it's possible the schools could attempt to exit sooner. Each university would have to pay a penalty of at least $75 million to $80 million to break that agreement -- or hope that the Big 12 dissolves before the contract expires.
Kevin Eltife, chairman of the Texas board of regents, said Thursday night that he wasn't concerned about any potential "fit" issues for the Longhorns.
"I think Texas fits in anywhere," he said, cautioning that nothing is a done deal and it could be years before any changes take place.
Eltife added: "If we accept something, it may not be until 2025. I mean, a lot's gonna change in the next four years. So I think you have to plan for the future."
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who on Wednesday accused ESPN of "manipulating other conferences to go after our members," said Thursday that the SEC's announcement "reaffirms that these plans have been in the works with ongoing discussions between the parties and television partner for some time."
"We are disappointed these discussions went as far as they did without notice to, or inclusion of, other Big 12 members," Bowlsby said in his statement. "Despite our concerns for the process and for the overall health of college athletics, we will do everything possible to make sure that the student-athletes at both universities enjoy an excellent experience throughout the remaining four years of their participation and competition in the Big 12 Conference."
ESPN responded to Bowlsby's allegations earlier Thursday, saying that it "engaged in no wrongful conduct."
After months of closed-door discussions, multiple meetings made public this week hastened the historic decision that is likely to create a seismic wave of change throughout the collegiate landscape. The only SEC school to publicly indicate it had reservations about Texas joining the league was Texas A&M, which abruptly reversed course over the past week.
The Aggies' board of regents voted 8-1 on Wednesday to direct president M. Katherine Banks to vote in favor of extending invitations to OU and Texas.
"Although the Board had concerns about the communication process relating to this matter, today the Board received the information it needed to properly consider the long-term ramifications of possible expansion," a statement released from the board on Wednesday said. "The board concluded that this expansion would enhance the long-term value of the SEC to student athletes and all of the institutions they represent -- including Texas A&M."
Eltife, who was being honored at an alumni function in Tyler, Texas, on Thursday night, with Texas president Jay Hartzell and athletic director Chris Del Conte in attendance, recounted a story about his experience as a state senator when Texas A&M was trying to leave the Big 12 in 2011.
"When Texas A&M wanted to go to the SEC, there are some in the legislature that got upset," he said. "That sound familiar?"
Eltife, a rookie senator at the time, was asked to be part of a group of legislators to go to College Station to meet with the Aggies' chancellor, John Sharp, and a Texas A&M regent.
"My colleagues began to lecture the chancellor on how detrimental that move would be for the [Big 12] conference and the state of Texas," Eltife said. "It went on for a while, and I sat quietly. On the way out the door, I looked at Chancellor Sharp and the regent and I told him, 'You should do what is in the best interest of Texas A&M. That's your job. And if you think going to the SEC is the right thing to do, as a state senator, I fully support you.'
"I plan to take my own advice."
On Tuesday, UT and OU formally notified the SEC they were seeking "an invitation for membership" beginning July 1, 2025.
ESPN's Dave Wilson contributed to this report.