The Big 12 lives to play on … for now

They fight, they feud and, well, if a shotgun marriage isn’t the proper term, how about this: here comes the shotgun renewal of the vows.

On Tuesday, the Pac-12 decided not to expand (for now) which means the dysfunctional Big 12 conference is still alive (for now) and the remaining members of the 10-school (for now) league must figure out how to coexist (for now).

Maybe like an old Western these periodic gunfights are good for clearing the air. Didn’t they used to call the Oklahoma-Texas game the “Red River Shootout” until they decided it might not be a good idea to mention the word “shoot” in case the fans took it literally?

The Big 12 is surviving for now, but commissioner Dan Beebe may find himself the odd man out.
(Cody Duty/AP Photo)

Turns out when it comes to hatin’ on each other, trigger-happy boosters have nothing on university presidents, athletic directors and general counsels.

The Big 12 may have survived (for now) its second near-implosion in 16 months but it remains a disaster. But, hey, it’s their disaster.

Up until Tuesday, when Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott took a long look at this stubborn, battling, ego-rich group and decided he couldn’t make it work in his West Coast-cool collaborative, this league was pushing daisies.

The chief reason the Pac-12 said no is the same one that is preventing the Big 12 getting along.

Texas and its indomitable belief that it shouldn’t compromise on much of anything.

“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,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement.

The “culture of equality” line might as well have been written in burnt orange. The Pac-12 couldn’t allow one school to have its own network. Scott, who seemed giddy at the expansion possibilities when he met with reporters earlier this month, couldn’t resist that frustration-fueled Austin-directed barb.


While UT gets bashed on this, we actually offer it a nod of respect.

In a world full of college administrators who can’t think for themselves, who operate out of fear and short-sightedness and are easily pushed around by their conference offices, Texas has, thus far, taken an opposite path.

It has a sweetheart arrangement with ESPN to broadcast its own personal Longhorn Network, which offers enviable revenue ($300-million plus) and exposure for the school. To simply give that up in the spirit of collegiality would be a highly questionable business decision.

[ Dan Wetzel: Notre Dame should look to ACC, not Big Ten ]

Everyone wants Texas to compromise – understandably – but what are the rest of the schools offering the Longhorns? It’s Texas with the groundbreaking network. It’s Texas with the most to lose. And it’s Texas that retains the biggest parachute – they can always concede later or go independent if it all falls apart.

Longhorn athletic director DeLoss Dodds is an undeniably wise man and he’s said repeatedly that the best place for UT is in the Big 12. As a nine- or 10-team league, without a conference title game, the road to the BCS title game is far easier to navigate than in a 16-team so-called superconference.

A Big 12 team has reached the title game in seven of the last 11 seasons. And with Nebraska running from UT and the Big 12 last year, that road is even easier now.

It’s worth noting Dodds isn’t anti-competition, he’s adamantly opposed to the BCS, which he calls “ridiculous” and is a stern “settle it on the field” playoff proponent. It’s just he hasn’t been able to get enough of the lemmings running other schools to change the system (for now).

As such, what was in it for Texas to give up its big revenue TV deal and pave the way for Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to head west and kill the Big 12? Less power, less money, more competition? Better to try one more time to see if this thing will stick (for now).

The other schools, of course, see this.

Just as Nebraska and Colorado bailed a year ago to the Big Ten and Pac-12 respectively mostly because of UT, rival Texas A&M is headed to the SEC at some point, if only to get away from the Longhorns.

Of course, Baylor may have to drop its threatened lawsuit against the SEC for that to happen – an entirely other feuding faction. Latest shot fired in that one? Some Aggies mocked the Baptist school by putting up a billboard in Waco that read: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s conference deal.”

And let’s not underestimate everyone’s confused feelings toward Missouri, which openly tried to get out of the league (Big Ten last year, SEC this), yet also was reportedly a key player in reaching this stay of execution. Of course, if Mizzou really is wanted by the SEC, why would the Tigers not explore every possibility to make that happen rather than tie themselves to this reality show and hope for the long-term best?


Everything got ratcheted up on Tuesday afternoon when Oklahoma clearly sensed that its desired Pac-12 move was in jeopardy because of the Longhorn Network. A report conveniently appeared in the Oklahoman stating the Sooners might, just might, be willing to keep the Big 12 together as long as some concessions were reached.

One, according to the paper, was the firing of Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, who is seen by many in the conference as a pushover for Texas and by many outside the conference as incompetent and overmatched.

Of course, these same Big 12 presidents gave Beebe a three-year contract extension … 10 months ago. And you wonder why these schools can’t seem to make up their mind on anything?

The second demand was (of course) Texas retreating on some its Longhorn Network plans.

“It’s going to take major, major reforms,” an OU source told plugged-in Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel.

After the Pac-12 rebuff, the Associated Press said Oklahoma and Texas would soon meet to discuss various issues and commit to keeping the league together for five years. BYU has emerged as a possible replacement for A&M. Further expansion is possible. Let the sounds of peace ring through the South Plains.

Really, at this point, who knows. Beebe may wind up booted, but will Texas ever really retreat at all on its crown jewel of a network?

If Oklahoma doesn’t want to go to the SEC (as they’ve indicated) and the Big Ten doesn’t want Oklahoma (as the league has indicated) then what option do the Sooners have? Wherever OU goes, they promise, they’ll bring Oklahoma State along too. That just complicates things.

Perhaps most difficult to stomach for the Sooners is that the Pac-12 didn’t want just them and OSU. Texas had to be in the mix.

Which means after this dust up, with the bullets flying with greater frequency and vengeance, with demand and words hanging in the air, the entire league comes back to one thing.

Texas has the power. To make everyone leave. To make everyone stay.

For now.

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Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Sep 21, 2011