When conference realignment bubbled up last summer, roles were quickly established.
The University of Texas was the prime decision-maker. OU was a quiet partner in the discussions about whether to leave the Big 12.
Now, the schools again are contemplating a move to what would be a Pacific-16 Conference. Only this time, the roles are reversed. The Sooners are driving the train. Texas is the follower.
“Oklahoma's taking the lead role,” said OU president David Boren.
Part of the switch is because of circumstances. Part is because of politics. But part is because Sooner leaders did not like how their school was perceived last summer. That OU was just one of the nine followers of Texas.
“That is so overblown,” said a high-level OU source. “Last year, Texas did all the talking. We have a feeling if you're strong, you don't have to tell everybody you're strong.”
Or perhaps you do. The Sooners clearly have had a change in philosophy. That's why Boren spoke candidly Friday to reporters, admitting that since Texas A&M is leaving the league, OU is looking at options other than salvaging the Big 12. And Boren's point was not lost when he said, “I don't think OU is going to be a wallflower when all is said and done.”
A couple of factors have changed that have put OU in the power position this time around. Texas is less inclined to leave the Big 12 now, because its $300 million Longhorn Network does not fit into the models of any other conference. And should the Longhorns consider leaving the Big 12, Texas politicians figure to get involved, just as they did a year ago. Better for UT if some other school takes the lead in what would be a possible death blow to the Big 12.
“I think one thing that's been made clear, Oklahoma is strong,” said the OU source. “Oklahoma is the key. I think they (Texas) realize it.
“I believe Texas has realized how much they need Oklahoma. There is a great respect by Texas of Oklahoma. I think Texas understands how important Oklahoma is to their future. They may never say that. But behind the scenes, they realize Oklahoma is the linchpin.”
Actually, the Longhorns are saying it. UT officials have expressed ambivalence about Texas A&M's impending departure. “We'll be disappointed if Texas A&M leaves,” said Longhorn athletic director DeLoss Dodds, “but if they do, we wish them well.”
Compare that to Dodds' statement a few days ago to the Austin American Statesman: “I think it's important that Oklahoma and Texas be on the same page.”
Dodds said he and OU athletic director Joe Castiglione “talk every day” and he said the same for Boren and UT president William Powers. “Oklahoma and Texas need to stay arm in arm.”
As the OU source said, “If Oklahoma were to leave, that puts Texas in one really, really tough spot.”
These college football superpowers seem to be working in concert. Last year, OU let Texas do the heavy lifting. This year, Texas is letting OU do the heavy lifting.
“We are carefully looking over all the options,” Boren said. “There's no school in the Big 12 more active than we are right now.”