I wasn't joking earlier today when I wrote "bring on the denials" in response to an explosive report that the Pac-10 plans to extend membership to six Big 12 schools at its conference meetings in San Francisco this weekend. Whether or not blueprints for a 16-team, continent-straddling behemoth with its own television network are actually being drawn behind the scenes, you can count on the public response until the deal is done: Deny, deny, deny.
Instead, the first take from Big 12 power brokers – emerging from a closed-door session at their own meetings to a pack of frothing reporters in Kansas City – has fallen on the side of uncertainty and "no comment." The one glaring exception was Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn, who affirmed to the Boulder Daily Camera that yes, in fact, he fully expects CU and five other Big 12 schools – Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech – to receive invitations to join the Pac-10 as soon as this weekend:
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn said he and other school officials have been led to believe the Pac-10 Conference is on the verge of issuing invitations to six members of the Big 12 to join its ranks. ... "The longer that we were together in Kansas City it appeared that that rumor or speculation did have some validity to it," Bohn said in an interview with the Camera as he left the Big 12 spring meetings here today.
"We're led to believe that that may be the case, but, again, there are so many different reports and different dialogues and different developments within our league and outside our league that prevents me from being able to predict what will happen," Bohn said.
Well, probably – Bohn said he hasn't personally had contact with the Pac-10, and it's not clear exactly how he got the impression that an offer is imminent without that crucial line of communication. It is fair, though, to operate under the assumption that, by the time a directly interested administrator has become confident enough to confirm the essentials of a "rumor" to the local media, that is a pretty solid rumor.
It doesn't help that no one else at the Big 12 meetings was offering much in the way of rebuttal, least of all the one man most interested in quashing speculation, commissioner Dan Beebe. Beebe came to Kansas City this week with the express goal of firming up commitments to the conference among his membership and presenting a united front to the rest of the nation. But when met with the news that half of the league was reportedly being courted by an ambitious, aggressive suitor, he didn't have anything to say:
KANSAS CITY — A bizarre day at the Big 12 meetings just unofficially concluded in an elevator. Commissioner Dan Beebe and Texas President Bill Powers abruptly canceled a news conference that was originally scheduled for 5 p.m. and pushed back to 6 p.m. ... then pushed back until Friday.
"There will be no further comments until the conclusion of tomorrow's meetings," Beebe told a crowd of reporters in the pavilion floor of the Intercontinental hotel.
As reporters continued to fire questions at Beebe, mostly in response to the Pac-10 expansion report, the commissioner smiled and said, "I used to be an investigator, so I know how to ask all the good questions." And with that, he stepped into the elevator, the doors closed and the college sports world froze for at least another day.
For his sake, I hope the elevator music wasn't too sentimental.
Not surprisingly, the rest of the power brokers on hand weren't much more inspiring. Texas Tech athletic director Gerald Myers said he still prefers the Big 12 to a 16-team Pac-10, if "you're talking about an intact Big 12," which it seems is no longer the case. Along the same lines, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said OU hasn't been contacted by the Pac-10 "yet," and hoped "we don't have to be."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton refused even a token affirmation of Mizzou's commitment to the conference, instead waving a giant metaphorical banner that read "Take Us, Big Ten!" while telling the Associated Press, "Conference realignment is something we do for our athletic programs. That’s what we’re working on right now."
The only higher-up on the record in Kansas City as "strongly committed to the conference" without qualification was Iowa State president Gregory Geoffroy, whose school would almost certainly be one of the three or four left in the cold in the Big 12 goes kaput.
Still, at this point, it would be premature to declare the youngest of the power conferences a dead conglomerate walking. We'll know more in the morning, when Beebe is liable to say just about anything. But the mood overnight is funereal, to say the least.
- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.