Pac-10 bigwigs met today in San Francisco, as expected, yet failed to revolutionize college sports as we know it by extending membership to half the Big 12, as widely speculated over the preceding 48 hours.
Sure enough, though, a sprawling, 16-team super conference forged by an alliance with Big 12 refugees was one of four options commissioner Larry Scott laid out for the league's future, according to multiple sources (including an unnamed Pac-10 athletic director) who leaked the day's agenda to both ESPN Los Angeles and Orangebloods.com, the Texas-based Rivals affiliate that initially broke the impending super conference scenario on Thursday. Those four options, according to both outlets:
• Retaining the current 10-team structure, unchanged since Arizona and Arizona State joined the Pac-8 in 1978;
• Adding Colorado and Utah to form a 12-team conference with two six-team divisions and a championship game, a la the SEC, Big 12 and ACC;
• Brokering a full merger with the entire Big 12, creating an unwieldy, 22-team behemoth that would completely redefine the concept of a "conference" in college sports;
• Brokering a merger with six Big 12 schools, as reported by Orangebloods, as long as one of those schools is Texas.
As Scott stressed on Friday, all options remain on the table. The one non-negotiable aspect of all four: The formation of a Pac-10 network based on the lucrative Big Ten model, likely run in conjunction with Fox Cable News, a partner in the Big Ten Network and in the Pac-10's current television structure. (Orangebloods notes that Scott's No. 2, associate commissioner Kevin Weiberg, resigned as Big 12 commish when members rejected his effort to start a conference network in 2007, defecting to the Big Ten to help launch the BTN instead. He may now play a significant role in putting the Big 12 on the chopping block ... with the lure of a conference network. If the question is "Who's laughing now?," the answer is Kevin Weiberg.)
Scott is reported to favor the final option above, the 16-team goliath featuring the crown jewel of the expansion push, Texas, and five of the Longhorns' less lucrative Big 12 comrades. As of Thursday, that lineup allegedly consisted of Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. But where Texas goes, of course, so goes Texas politics. And if Texas is the real prize, reasoned a legislator who spoke to Orangebloods' Chip Brown, Texas politicians see no reason to let the Longhorns go without attaching as many Lone Star riders as they can afford – specifically, in this case, that could mean Baylor's in, and Colorado's out:
"If you're going to have an exported commodity involved in this, do you think we're going to allow a school from outside the state of Texas to replace one of our schools in the Big 12 South? I don't think so. We're already at work on this," said a high-ranking member of the Texas Legislature who asked not to be identified.
The source said there is a block of 15 legislators who will work to make sure Baylor - not Colorado - is invited to the Pac-10.
"If the Pac-10 wants Texas, and we know they do, they may have to take all of our Texas schools," the source said, adding that Texas Tech has also benefited from political inclusion on the invite list.
In other words, affiliation with Texas is a bleeping valuable thing. You don't just give it away for nothing. If that anonymous man doesn't wear a 10-gallon cowboy hat to work every day, he should, and occasionally use it as a potato chip bowl on his desk, right next to the autographed photos of J.R. Ewing and Ann Richards. (It was then-governor Richards, a Baylor grad, who was considered instrumental in securing the Bears' surprising seat at the Big 12 table in 1995. She may be dead, but hardballin' Texas politics is alive as ever.)
It's men like him and the 14 others prepared to milk the Longhorns' irresistibility for all it's worth who should put Texas Tech's mind at ease: Other conferences may think they have "a Tech problem," and now "a Baylor problem." Even Texas may think it has a Tech/Baylor problem. If Texas is as golden as everyone seems to think, though, it's exactly this sort of canny regional politicking that could wind up saving the Bears and Red Raiders from the scrap heap when the dust settles.
If pushed too far, it could also throw the brakes on the entire production by raising the price beyond what the interested conferences are willing to pay. But then, Texas could still have the opportunity to make up the difference in what it might have made in the Pac-10 or Big Ten television networks by exploring the all-Texas network, and vulnerable Texas Tech and Baylor would (presumably) remain secure in the Big 12 South. If UT is going to land on its feet no matter what, its unofficial protectorate programs are likely to benefit from the resulting landscape, as well – as long as it doesn't include the Longhorns ditching them for the unlikely refuge of independence.
Either way, if only Nebraska and Missouri had those kinds of bargaining chips to throw on the table, maybe they could be the ones laying down ultimatums instead of receiving them. But more on that in the morning.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.