HOOVER, Ala. – Ross Bjork appeared on SEC Media Days on Wednesday with the intention of supporting his two soccer players and their soccer coach.
Perhaps he would be lurking in the shadows, greeting league staff members, and greeting members of the media that he hadn’t seen since before the pandemic.
Instead, the Texas A&M athletic director found himself squarely in the spotlight, embroiled in a frenzy of media attention when a report emerged that Texas, the Aggies’ hated state rival, and Oklahoma were interested. In joining the SEC.
Too much for the quiet day. What followed was a series of interviews in which Bjork publicly advocated against any expansion that included the Longhorns. He even approached SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey with a similar message.
We are not for this.
“We want to be the only SEC program in the state of Texas,” he told reporters.
And so we enter one of the strangest and most eventful two hours in the history of the SEC’s press days, as the rumor of the conference expansion spread through the league’s kick-off event in the bowels of the hotel. Hyatt Regency.
The news is true, sources confirmed to Illustrated Sports: Texas and Oklahoma have made serious inquiries with the SEC about joining the conference; Both schools have sent a clear message to the league that they are exploring an exit strategy from the Big 12.
“How can you not listen when they say, ‘We’re leaving,'” says an industry source.
But there are many impediments that get in the way, such as television contracts and political pressure. There is also another big hurdle: Would the SEC membership add a team against the vehement wishes of one of its other members?
Officially, the league could. The expansion requires the vote of three-quarters of the conference members, or 11 of the 14 teams. But, for such a significant move, wouldn’t the league want a unanimous decision?
In multiple interviews Wednesday while parading through the Hyatt, Sankey declined to answer questions about the report.
“I do not respond to anonymous sources,” he said in a scheduled interview with SI. When asked if the league was interested in expansion, Sankey said, “I’ll refer you to my answer above.”
Oklahoma and Texas issued statements, neither of which denied the report. The state of Oklahoma issued an assertive response to the story, describing the school as “seriously disappointed” if the report is found to be true.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told SI he knew nothing about the issue.
Meanwhile, Bjork launched an anti-Texas campaign, boldly politicizing against any move that brings his archrival to the conference and encouraging the league to seek a more “broader” approach to expansion. Bjork’s appearance in the media days was a surprise and a historical rarity here. SEC athletic directors typically do not attend press days.
During his interviews Wednesday, Bjork said the SEC’s athletic directors haven’t discussed the expansion, but league administrators, he says, know how the Aggies feel.
And now, after Wednesday, also Sankey.
“I spoke to the commissioner and expressed the same things that I told him, about our feelings and perspective,” Bjork told SI. Those perspectives have not changed since A&M joined the SEC. Those are the reasons why A&M joined the SEC. … That’s why we left, to have our own identity. We are a flagship university. We have the size and the scale. It has been a great adjustment and we want to keep it in the future. Everybody at the SEC knows it. “
A college athletic source told SI that the high-level conversations in Texas and Oklahoma “have been going on for a while,” and that the current state of college athleticsIn the midst of a transformative year with an impending NCAA shakeup and playoff expansion, they have prompted the move.
“You knew trouble was coming,” says a university administrator. “At the end of the day, it will all be about money.”
The report surprised Bjork, he says.
In fact, as The Houston Chronicle Story posted around 2:40 p.m. local time, Bjork was talking to two reporters, filming the you know what mostly in college athletics (oddly, much of the conversation centered on the long-running feud between the Aggies and the Longhorns – they haven’t played since A&M left the Big 12 in 2012).
In the middle of the conversation, Bjork’s phone rang and she turned on the caller ID: it was the president of the school, Katherine Banks.
“I have to accept this,” Bjork said, “it’s the boss.”
Banks, his own president, informed Bjork of the story in a 10-minute phone call that unfolded just before his soccer head coach, Jimbo Fisher, took the main stage for his press-day appearance. of the SEC.
Minutes later, the AD walked into a dimly lit hallway here, smiled, and delivered an unmistakable message to a group of reporters, kicking off one of the strangest days to ever occur at this event.
“What is the broader national approach that has to happen?” I ask. “Those are the things that interest me at the national level. What is the evolutionary nature of college athletics and how would we lead in that process? What does adding two teams give you? Nobody has that answer. “
More from Ross Dellenger:
• The SEC, the NCAA and a fight to change college sports
• The Big 12 send a message to athletes when press days open: ‘Get vaccinated’
• SEC Faces Worrying Vaccination Trends As Soccer Season Approaches
• The Rose Bowl is a decisive factor in the expansion plan of the college football playoffs.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.