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The Pac-12 takes a pass: A new realignment FAQ, starring another death-defying Big 12 escape

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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Okay, so everything you've read over the last month about the imminent demise of the Big 12? And the imminent rise of the Pac-16, featuring Oklahoma and Texas? And the remnants of the Big 12 merging with the Big East? All of that? Throw it all out the window, again. Because as of tonight, the Pac-12 is doing just fine as it is, thanks:

PAC-12 AFFIRMS DECISION NOT TO EXPAND

WALNUT CREEK, Calif.— In light of the widespread speculation about potential scenarios for Conference re-alignment, the Pac-12 Presidents and Chancellors have affirmed their decision to remain a 12-team conference.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said, "after careful review we have determined that it is in the best interests of our member institutions, student-athletes and fans to remain a 12-team conference. While we have great respect for all of the institutions that have contacted us, and certain expansion proposals were financially attractive, we have a strong conference structure and culture of equality that we are committed to preserve. With new landmark TV agreements and plans to launch our innovative television networks, we are going to focus solely on these great assets, our strong heritage and the bright future in front of us."

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Yes, for the second year in a row, the Pac-12 has failed to capitalize on its opportunity to draw and quarter the Big 12, this time — apparently — of its own volition. Let's unpack the ramifications, question by question.

Wha… what happened? Specifically? We don't know. We do know that a significant number of Pac-12 presidents were uncomfortable with expansion, in general, and with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, specifically, because of concerns about their academic cred. (None of the three are members of the Association of American Universities, though neither are five schools already in the conference, including one of the recent additions, Utah.) The presidents may have also been scared away by the prospect of dealing with Texas' Texas-sized ego — Colorado president Bruce Benson said on the record he vehemently opposed any move that would reunite the Buffs with Oklahoma or Texas — and especially with the Longhorn Network, which was a deal-breaker in the conference's attempt to add Texas last year and may have again proven irreconcilable with the forthcoming Pac-12 Network.

Texas had other concerns, long-distance travel chief among them. But Oklahoma? By all accounts, it had both feet out the door and a "Pac-12 or Bust" sticker on the suitcase. It looks like the Sooners, in conjunction with Oklahoma State, were simply rejected.{YSP:MORE}

So the Big 12 survives, again? In all likelihood, yes. Its strongest player, Texas, appeared to be working behind the scenes to keep the league together even as it publicly hedged its bets by authorizing president Bill Powers to seek an exit route. But the odds are now better than not that Texas remains in the fold, along with the Oklahoma schools (see below) and Missouri (also see below). If that's the case, it's back to picking a replacement for Texas A&M (again, below) and forging ahead from there. Word from the Associated Press is that Oklahoma and Texas officials will be meeting to hammer out a deal that keeps them in the conference for another five years, for whatever that's worth.

Theoretically, the Big 12 could still face a threat from poachers in the ACC and/or SEC. But with the ACC now sitting at 14 teams in the very near future and the SEC insisting it's in no hurry to get there, it appears to have weathered the most serious threat to its existence, held on to its anchor and come out more or less intact. Except for…

Is Texas A&M still going to the SEC? Almost certainly, yes: The SEC has publicly accepted A&M's application; A&M's president has publicly vented over being blocked from accepting the SEC's invitation; an A&M spokesman tweeted this morning that the Aggies "have made our intentions clear" and "do not intend to the remain in the Big 12 past this season"; and another spokesman told the Oklahoman flatly, "We are gone." There is no reason to think any of that has changed.

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In fact, the Aggies' path to the SEC may be much clearer now that it appears the Big 12's heart will go on with or without them, as certain other schools — *cough, Baylor!, cough* — have no more incentive to keep A&M tied down with the threat of a lawsuit. Could it be that the Bears' last-gasp legal Hail Mary to keep the Big 12 intact actually played a significant role in saving the league?

Is Missouri still an SEC target? Well… probably not. Reports today suggested Mizzou was in line for an invitation from the SEC, but only after the Big 12 cracked up. As we've seen with Texas A&M, the SEC doesn't want to be cast as a raider as long as there's the slightest chance it could face legal action for interfering with existing contracts — it only accepted A&M because Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe sent SEC commissioner Mike Slive a letter assuring him (incorrectly) that there would be no lawsuits — and it has even less reason now to stick its neck out for Missouri. (Assuming it wanted to in the first place.) Mizzou, as badly as it would relish the opportunity to move to a more stable league, doesn't have any reason to jump through a lot of hoops in the hope of an SEC invite, either, if the Big 12 is remaining intact.

What happens to Oklahoma? And here we reach the multimillion-dollar question. More than any other school this side of Texas A&M — and maybe even as much as the Aggies — Oklahoma wanted out, and made only the barest, most semantic bones about it. Even when it hedged its bets today by leaking the possibility of staying in the Big 12, the olive branch came with demands for major reform, beginning with Dan Beebe's resignation and rules against airing high school or Big 12 conference games on the Longhorn Network. Just hours later, the Pac-12 has called the Sooners' bluff and they appear to be stuck in the league they more or less openly repudiated, with the commissioner they said they could no longer tolerate.

[Related: Notre Dame needs move to ACC … now]

Can OU possibly still get its way? Or live with the consequences if it doesn't? The only conceivable alternative is an unlikely play — make that a highly unlikely play — to follow Texas A&M to the SEC with Oklahoma State and either Texas or Missouri (most likely the latter) en tow to swell the SEC ranks to sixteen. But there is no indication that the SEC plans to go that far, or that it's been in any kind of contact with either Oklahoma school. And there is every indication, at the moment, that the Sooners are going to have to suck it up, make nice and wait for the next round of musical chairs to make their move.

But that's only for the moment.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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