The Pac-12 Conference announced Tuesday night that it would not expand at this time, apparently ending one of the two stated options of OU and OSU.
OU President David Boren said Monday the Sooners were deciding between staying in the Big 12 and applying for the Pac-12. He indicated OU and OSU would be welcomed into the Pac-12.
But Tuesday, a high-ranking source from a Big 12 school told The Oklahoman the Sooners would consider remaining in a “reformed” version of the conference, which would include restrictions on Texas' Longhorn Network and removal of Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe.
It was not immediately clear Tuesday night if OU's demands were met or if the Sooners overplayed their Pac-12 opportunity.
“We were not surprised by the Pac-12's decision to not expand at this time,” Boren said in a statement, though that seemingly contradicts Boren's statements Monday.
“Even though we had decided not to apply for membership this year, we have developed a positive relationship with the leadership of the conference and we have kept them informed of the progress we've been making to gain agreement from the Big 12 for changes which will make the conference more stable in the future.
“Conference stability has been our first goal and we look forward to achieving that goal through continued membership in the Big 12 Conference.”
Just after 10 p.m. Oklahoma time, the Pac-12 released a statement that in part read “In light of the widespread speculation about potential scenarios for Conference realignment, the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors have affirmed their decision to remain a 12-team conference.”
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, who according to West Coast sources had given OU and OSU encouragement that they would be welcomed into his league, said, “after careful review, we have determined that it is in the best interests of our member institutions, student-athletes and fans to remain a 12-team conference. 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.”
The reference to “culture of equality” appears to be a shot at Texas, which was loath to compromise on its Longhorn Network and fold it into the Pac-12 Network model.
The culture of equality was a theme earlier Tuesday, when the source said it would take “major, major reforms” for OU to consider remaining in the Big 12.
But if the Pac-12 closed the door on the Sooners — and some sources indicated Scott failed to muster support from his presidents to get the Oklahoma schools admitted — then OU would have lost its bargaining power.
Earlier in the day, the high-ranking source from a Big 12 school said “we'd have to have an interim commissioner” to keep OU in the league.
The source said the league presidents do not believe Beebe responded with adequate leadership to Nebraska's and Texas A&M's frustration, even though Beebe was rewarded last November with a contract extension through 2015. Nebraska and Colorado left the Big 12 in May, and A&M announced in August it was leaving for the Southeastern Conference.
The other reform the Sooners sought was concessions from Texas and ESPN on The Longhorn Network. The UT/ESPN partnership angered Big 12 members on two counts: 1) ESPN reached an agreement with Fox Sports to move a conference game to the Longhorn Network; and 2) The Longhorn Network announced it would show high school highlights even after the conference voted to keep televised high school games off school-branded networks.
Both Boren and OU athletic director Joe Castiglione have stated their desire to make the Big 12 work, as have OSU president Burns Hargis and athletic director Mike Holder.
“No one wants to give up on it,” an OSU source said of the Big 12. The problems have “nothing to do with finances. It has nothing to do with success. For the league to be falling apart, it's crazy.”
But the high-ranking source from a Big 12 school said OU was willing to consider only a reformed Big 12.
The source said conference expansion is not a major issue, that while the Big 12 likely needs to return to 10 or 12 schools, the reforms are a much higher priority for stabilizing the conference.
Tuesday, the Birmingham News reported that Missouri has tentatively agreed to join the Southeastern Conference, “barring new developments.” It's unknown whether the Pac-12 announcement constitutes new developments.
Texas A&M's move to the SEC has been held up by Baylor's threat of litigation. But the reforms OU seeks would not entice the Aggies to remain in the Big 12.
“We are gone,” said an A&M official.
Earlier Tuesday, OSU booster Boone Pickens, who tried to use his influence in the state of Texas to get A&M to make the same demands of UT that OU now is making, said he detected a thaw in the Aggies' stance.
Pickens even contacted Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination. Pickens said he told Perry to show America that “you fix problems, don't contribute to 'em.”
Perry is a former Texas A&M yell leader. “After the Aggies leave school, they're still looking for a yell leader,” Pickens said. He said he told Perry to be that leader.
But A&M vice president for communications Jason Cook, responding to Pickens, said, “Texas A&M has made our intentions perfectly clear. We do not intend to be a member of the Big 12 past this season.”
A&M officials apparently believe that Beebe was part of the problem.
“The perception is, he answers only to one school (Texas),” the source said. “That does not work.”
The source said Beebe made the decision that appeasing Texas was the Big 12's best hope for stability. “He made the wrong decision,” the source said. Instead, that led to instability, with the departure of Nebraska and now A&M.
The source said Big 12 presidents view Beebe as a commissioner serving only one school, Texas. They lay Nebraska's departure in June 2010 at the feet of Beebe.
“When a commissioner has a tin ear to what's happening in Nebraska and doesn't get himself up there …” the source said.
Ironically, the source said, Texas supported another candidate for commissioner four years ago, Jack Swarbrick, while OU supported Beebe.
“The best commissioner's a consensus builder,” the source said. “We need a consensus-builder commissioner.
“You take the Big Ten, SEC, the Pac-12, their conference office runs circles around our conference in capability, not to mention bias. This commissioner totally cost us Texas A&M.”
The source said that OU could even push for revenue-sharing of individual networks. Texas is reaping more than $12 million a year from its ESPN contract with the Longhorn Network.
“What if we share a small percentage?” the source asked. “That's a real strong show of support. Where's anybody going to go in any other conference that doesn't want all your network? Wouldn't it be a nice show of good faith?
“It would be making sure the conference was evenhanded and stable. It's true there's some things in favor of the Pac-12. Plain stability. We don't want to have to do this every year. What do we do? What do we do?”