September 13, 2011
It didn't exactly take an advanced degree to read the writing on the wall last week for the future of the Big 12, even before SEC commissioner Mike Slive came right out and said Monday that his conference already has a room waiting for the first domino in the Big 12's demise, Texas A&M. Everyone already assumed as much before last weekend, including officials from the University of Texas. According to the Austin American-Statesman's Kirk Bohls, though, even UT seems to have underestimated just how determined Oklahoma is to finish the Big 12 off once A&M is finally out (emphasis added):
University of Texas President Bill Powers and athletic directors DeLoss Dodds and Chris Plonsky boarded a plane early Sunday afternoon for a meeting at the University of Oklahoma with one hope: Find a creative solution to save the Big 12.
Their Oklahoma counterparts had a different agenda. In fact, before the Longhorns party had arrived, OU's board of regents had instructed school President David L. Boren to prepare a document to formally apply for admission to the Pac-12, a source close to the situation said.
Oklahoma is expected to be joined in exodus by Oklahoma State to become the Pac-12's 13th and 14th institutions.
"There's nothing Texas could have offered Oklahoma that would have changed their mind. They were set on leaving the Big 12 before Texas got there," a well-placed source at a Big 12 school said, adding that Sunday's meeting had a very friendly and cooperative tone. "The Big 12's done. Oklahoma wasn't open to creating Big 12 stability."
From the sound of it, the Sooners aren't really closed to the idea of Big 12 stability so much as they think it's impossible — at the moment, the only thread even nominally tying Texas A&M to the conference is a rather desperate threat of legal action that probably isn't going to keep the Aggies in the fold much longer. Multiple reports suggest Oklahoma's Board of Regents is planning to apply the dagger by applying for admission to the Pac-12 before the end of the month, possibly as soon as early next week, citing its "concern for the instability in the Big 12 and how realignment can't happen every year."
At that point, Pac-12 commish Larry Scott may still have a little convincing to do to sell the Oklahoma schools — as well as the notion of an even larger, less geographically coherent conference — to university presidents on the West Coast. Assuming that campaign is a foregone conclusion, and assuming it leaves Texas in an untenable position in what remains of the Big 12, the Longhorns will essentially be down to three options. Per Bohls:
a) Pushing for membership in the Pac-12.
b) Pushing for membership in the ACC.
c) Slipping into its best Eric Cartman impression and telling the rest of the country, "Screw you guys, I'm going independent."
Because Texas was leading the wagon train 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 seem 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, 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.
As for independence, the 'Horns don't want it and reportedly never have. But we're rapidly approaching the point where the more relevant question is, "Can they afford it?"