Texas to the SEC Would Transform College Swimming

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Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

Texas to the SEC Would Transform College Swimming

Over the past several days, rumors have emerged that the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma have reached out to the Southeastern conference (SEC) about potentially joining. The Houston Chronicle first reported the news Wednesday, and as with most realignment decisions in college football, the move would be motivated by football considerations since football is the primary money-maker in college athletics, and other sports would fall in line behind football.

Okhlahoma does not have a swimming and diving program, but the Longhorns have one of the nation’s premier programs for both women and men. The Texas men captured their 15th NCAA team championship in March, while the women earned their highest finish in the team battle (third) since Carol Capitani became head coach in 2012.

Texas competes in the Big 12 (as does Oklahaoma in sports besides swimming), and the league is not considered a swimming powerhouse. Only Texas, Texas Christian University and West Virginia boast men’s swimming programs, and there are only five women’s teams, with Kansas and Iowa State joining the three aforementioned schools with men’s teams. Thus, Texas is absolutely dominant at Big 12 Championships, and the Longhorn men have won the conference championship every single year since the conference’s inception (in 1996). The Texas women have won 19 conference titles during that span, and they have not lost since Texas A&M departed the conference for the SEC in 2012.

The lack of significant competition at the conference meet allows Texas swimmers to compete in off-events, scratch finals, not rest and shave for their conference meet or even skip the meet altogether, and Texas would still be assured to win the title. Once Longhorn swimmers achieve their NCAA championship qualifying times (which often happens mid-season), they can train with a focus on the NCAA Championships, and that has paid off with huge performances at that meet over the years, particularly with the oft-dominant men’s team.

And Texas has hosted the Big 12 Championships almost every year with no other universities in the conference owning facilities adequate for such an event, although West Virginia did host the 2020 meet at the Mountaineers’ new facility. Legendary men’s coach Eddie Reese, who recently announced he will forgo his planned retirement and return as the Longhorns’ head coach in 2021-22, told Swimming World in 2019 that swimmers actually attend their academic classes during the conference meet “all the time,” which he is fine with.

If Texas were to jump to the SEC, that would no longer be the case. The conference meet would become another championship-level event that Texas would need to focus heavily on if the school wanted to keep its championship streak in tact. Moreover, the SEC is a conference filled with very competitive swim teams. Of the 14 schools in that conference, 12 have women’s swim teams and 10 have men’s teams. That includes strong swimming programs at Florida, Georgia, Auburn, Texas A&M and, more recently, at Alabama and Kentucky.

The balance of power in college swimming has shifted west over the past decade or so towards the Pac-12 (particularly with Stanford and Cal), and it would definitely tilt back east if the SEC became a superconference with Texas and Oklahoma.

However, as the Houston Chronicle notes in the story, such realignment probably would not come to pass until 2025, when the Big 12’s football television contracts with ESPN and FOX are up, and existing SEC schools could likely veto the addition of any other university in its state. Specifically, officials at Texas A&M are likely to try to keep the Longhorns out of the SEC, and A&M athletic director Ross Bjork told the Houston Chronicle that the Aggies want to remain the only school from Texas in the SEC.

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