September 16, 2011
If Oklahoma's Board of Regents didn't make it clear enough on their end, their counterparts in Texas (not pictured) have driven the point home: By all appearances, Monday is D-Day for the future of the Big 12 as a major football conference. As widely reported on Thursday, the Oklahoma regents are set to meet at 1 p.m. Central to "discuss potential legal ramifications of athletic conference realignment options and/or consider new athletic conference membership and take any appropriate action," jargon for "decide whether or not to formally apply for membership to the Pac-12." Today, we learned that the regents for the University of Texas System will come together two hours later, at 3 p.m., for "discussion and appropriate action regarding potential legal issues related to athletic conference membership and contracting."
Both discussions are likely to go behind closed doors into executive session, and the language in the agenda items conspicuously leaves open the possibility that neither will produce any kind of definitive action — though you can bet, if there is a vote, that the result is already considered a foregone conclusion in both cases. Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton, chairman of the Big 12 board, provided a slight glimmer of hope through the clouds earlier this week when he said he's "a little more optimistic" about the conference's survival than he was last week, which is probably the most positive statement anyone affiliated with the Big 12 has made in public since it became clear last month that Texas A&M is determined to make a break for the SEC. Then again, Deaton also refused to concede that the Aggies are out, even after they've been publicly welcomed into the fold by SEC commissioner Mike Slive as soon as they get the legal thing cleared up. So Deaton's public line may not be the most foolproof.
On the same note, though, it is strange for both Oklahoma and Texas to be drawing up official exit strategies, on the record, while Texas A&M remains in official limbo. In Oklahoma's case, the Sooners may be willing to jump the Aggies in line in their eagerness to escape the conference's perceived instability — which in turn helps stoke its actual instability — for a slot in the Pac-12. If OU goes through with it, Oklahoma State is generally considered a lock to follow. At which point the Big 12 will be effectively reduced to Texas, Texas A&M's attorneys and the Six Dwarves. That looks like an untenable position for the Longhorns, but its next move — especially if it's coming as early as Monday — is still anybody's guess.
Because Texas was leading the exodus to the Pac-10 before the deal fell apart in the eleventh hour last summer, it's natural to assume it would just dust off those plans and go through with it already, which is exactly what Oklahoma (and Oklahoma State in turn) seems prepared to do. But then, as of last summer, the Longhorn Network and Pac-12 Network were still only long-term visions in the distance, and managed to foil the prospective marriage anyway; this year, both are very real projects, both have lucrative contracts in place and both are as incompatible with the other as ever. If Texas wants into the Pac-[Insert Number], and the Pac-[Insert Number] wants Texas, one or both sides will have to be willing to cave where they held their ground in 2010. And West-of-the-Mississippi solidarity notwithstanding, a defection to the ACC — yes, the ACC — actually makes far more sense for the Longhorns in terms of travel and avoiding time-zone issues on late-night return trips from California to Austin.
Then again, the regents could come out of executive session Monday saying almost anything, up to an including their recommitment to make the Big 12 work, a consistent UT line since it got exactly what it wanted from the conference — a promise of more revenue from future television contracts and carte blanche to pursue the Longhorn Network — during last year's existential crisis. But why would you need to get the regents behind closed doors to reaffirm a commitment to sustaining the status quo?