COLUMBIA — University of South Carolina Interim President Harris Pastides said the school will weigh more than athletics in considering whether to add the University of Texas and Oklahoma University to the Southeastern Conference.
Pastides also said USC fans worried about adding two powerful foes to the SEC should be used to the level of competition the schools present, and the conference would not allow Texas to play by its own rules as it has in the past.
The USC president's comments on July 26 came hours after Texas and Oklahoma formally announced plans to leave the Big 12 Conference.
"One thing I know is that those are impressive universities, academically and with their tradition," Pastides, whose Gamecocks first joined the SEC in 1991, told The Post and Courier. "When I will look at my personal decision, it's not merely their athletic competitiveness or the business part of the decision, but would they be worthy peers and colleagues to the conference. So there's a lot a lot to think about going forward. I'm sure it'll play out in the next few days."
Texas and Oklahoma did not say in their departure announcement to the Big 12 where they planned to go next, but multiple news reports have said the schools are heading to the SEC, considered the nation's top college sports conference.
"We already have the best conference in America so we don't need two more universities to make us the best," Pastides said. "I think that's going to be a communal decision, letting 14 great universities decide that together."
Speaking to the Columbia Rotary Club later July 26, Pastides said the schools have "a global presence" and have not been on probation or involved in recent athletic scandals.
"So they're worthy to be considered," he said.
No timetable for joining the SEC has been announced, but it is expected Texas and Oklahoma will come aboard before their media rights agreement with the Big 12 ends in 2025.
But Pastides told The Post and Courier that he could see that the SEC might have to wait.
"I think they have television contracts to fulfill. And so I think we're talking about that kind of timeframe (2025)," he said.
When they join, Texas and Oklahoma would bring the total number of the SEC teams to 16, forcing changes to the two divisions and schedules that include some longstanding rivalries. USC plays in the East Division with Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
The possible schedule changes are one of the negatives Pastides said he's heard about adding Texas and Oklahoma.
"Those things, to be clear, have not been worked out and probably wouldn't be before any kind of admission," Pastides said. "Those things would be worked out later as they were with Missouri and Texas A&M (when they joined the SEC in 2012)."
A delay in Texas and Oklahoma formally playing in the SEC could give the schools time to work out scheduling issues, he said.
Some USC fans have complained about the tougher competition that Texas and Oklahoma, a pair of traditional national powerhouses, would pose to the Gamecocks, often an also-ran in SEC football.
"I'm like, 'Too much competition? Like they're better than the current competition? No, they're just like current competition," Pastides told the Columbia Rotary Club. "Every game we play is like, 'Oh my God, how are we going to play them?' And now we've got two more. But I do respect the fans, of course, and I know where they're coming from."
Their addition, however, is expected to add revenue to conference schools. Pastides noted that adding new schools could boost the Columbia-area economy when they visit Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Gamecocks athletic department needed to borrow $46 million from the university to offset COVID-related losses from canceled games as well as the $15 million buyout of former football coach Will Muschamp and his staff.
Texas and Oklahoma said they intend to honor their existing "grant of rights agreements," that give the Big 12 control of the schools' media rights. The Big 12′s television contracts with ESPN and Fox expire in 2025.
“However, both universities will continue to monitor the rapidly evolving collegiate athletics landscape as they consider how best to position their athletics programs in the future,” the schools said in a joint statement.
The Big 12's TV deals make up the bulk of the conference's revenue. The conference distributed $34.5 million to its schools this year. The SEC announced an average payout to each of its members of $44.6 million in January.
Pastides said he understands the frustration of leaders at Texas A&M, which left the Big 12 because of Texas' outsized influence in that conference and oppose playing again in the same conference with the Longhorns.
"I'm not sure that their fans feel that way about it, but I can understand that we respect that deeply, so we're going to start having conversations about that," Pastides said.
The SEC will not allow one school to have so much sway, Pastides said. That means expecting Texas to drop the Longhorn Network if the school joins the SEC, which has its own dedicated sports channel.
"They will be cooperative because that's the way the SEC does it," he said. "We're not going to welcome or accept anybody who wants to play by a different set of rules."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.