The Big 12 marches on with 10 teams and a brave front. And the happy face is not a fraud. Sooners and Cowboys alike are in good stead. Easier conference, rosier path to exalted status, and more money to boot. Hard to argue with. But the collapse of the proposed Pac-16 was lost opportunity for OU and OSU. Both would have been better off in a Southwest precinct of the NCAA's first mega-conference. Not for athletic reasons. Athletically, the new and diminished Big 12 will be just fine for Sooners and Cowboys. Probably better than a passage to the Pacific. OU's road to football national championships is easier staying strictly in the Central Time Zone. OU-Texas darn near will be a national semifinal. OSU's pursuit of a conference football title will be less severe. Still treacherous, yes, but only OU and Texas are vastly superior. In a Pac-16, USC and Oregon would stand in the way, too, along with more equals. Other sports would have been fun and fruitful out West; that doesn't mean they can't be sporting here in Middle America. But the lost opportunity centers on issues even more important than scoreboards and banners. The Pac-16 offered academic enhancement and long-term stability. Discount neither. Both are pearls of great price. OU and OSU leaders alike were excited about a pending alliance with Pac-10 universities. OU in a league with Cal-Berkeley? OSU in a league with Stanford? That kind of association cannot be purchased. Academic elitism wears me slick. But that doesn't mean it's not valuable for the schools lucky enough to possess it. You're known by the company you keep, and just as the Missouri governor was fired up to align his school with exclusive Big Ten universities, Oklahomans in both Norman and Stillwater were entranced at the idea of becoming allies with USC and UCLA, they were just smart enough not to crow about it. We sometimes forget that football teams exist to bolster the mission of universities, not the other way around. And the Pac-16 offered stability, which the Big 12 cannot. The Big 12 did not go from dysfunctional league to hunky dory just by exorcising Nebraska and Colorado. Happy face could become happy trails. "I'm worried about the future,” said a Big 12 administrator in a rare moment of truthfulness from a decision-maker. What happens when the realignment winds again blow? When Notre Dame comes to its senses and joins the Big Ten? When the SEC decides that expansion could mean an even bigger piece of the pie? Consolidation is a fact of life. Conoco and Phillips merged because they knew if they didn't get big enough, they could become part of Exxon. Universities know if they don't keep the colleagues, they could be swallowed up. The Pac-10 has courted Texas twice. The Longhorns stayed put twice, both times barely. What happens if next time, the answer is yes? Will there be a golden parachute like the Pac-10 for OU and OSU during the next shuffle? Maybe. Maybe not. The Sooners will have options. They are an iconic brand, as athletic director Joe Castiglione said Tuesday. But OU will be hard-pressed to go anywhere without OSU, both for political and humanitarian reasons. Next time, an invite to OSU might not be part of the package. Everyone left in the Big 12 displays a solid front. "Everyone understands it's not a short-term deal,” said a Big 12 source. "I don't believe there will be anything other than a long-term commitment.” But that hasn't stopped conference officials from talking about a "blood oath.” OSU AD Mike Holder talked Tuesday about severe consequences for schools that defect. Any conference built on dire straits is bound for problems. Did we learn nothing from the Treaty of Versailles? Commissioner Dan Beebe, perhaps unwittingly, admitted Tuesday that the five Big 12 schools that seemed homeless only a few days ago were downright desperate. Beebe said the five schools offered to donate the exit-penalty money from Nebraska and Colorado to Texas, OU and Texas A&M, the three schools with multiple options in the conference shuffling. Read that again. The schools that need the money the least are being offered millions of dollars by schools that need the money the most. "They don't want to be out in the cold,” the Big 12 administrator said. "They're willing to agree to anything to have a home again.” You don't think that kind of cockamamied relationship will foster resentment in the coming years? Beebe deserves a raise, not for what he did in keeping the conference afloat, but for the headaches he's about to encounter. Truth is, the future is uncertain in this Big 12 of 10. That's why OU and OSU officials both had bought in to the Pac-16 idea. They knew what it provided. Reports that OU, in particular, was leading a charge to save the Big 12 after Nebraska's departure? Not so, sources said. The league seemed tenuous. The Big 12 works just fine for now, financially and athletically. But it doesn't bring the academic status of a Pac-16, or the stability. Pride and peace of mind are no small things. Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.