TULSA — By the end of the business day here Monday, the University of Oklahoma remained one of 10 tentative members of the Big 12 Conference.
A meeting of the school's board members did not change that, even if OU president David Boren spent just as much, if not more, time afterward talking about the Pac-12 than his institution's current league.
“I think, at this point in time, we want to examine all of our options,” Boren said following a meeting that included a 90-minute executive session to primarily discuss OU's conference future. “I would say that the principle focus, beyond the Big 12 itself – which is still a focus for us – is the Pac-12.”
Boren acknowledged he has engaged in “very warm” and “very constructive” talks with the Pac-12. He followed that by saying he had spoken constructively, too, with some Big 12 presidents.
The former governor and U.S. Senator did not establish a specific timeline for the next OU move, even though he said Sept. 2 that he expected some sort of resolution by this week.
“I'd still love to see a result sooner rather than later,” he said. “I think that it's best for everyone involved if we can reach a conclusion, reach a decision, as soon as possible.”
The only official movement Monday by OU was to, as expected, grant Boren authority to make alignment decisions. Texas' board did the same thing at nearly the same time, with respects to UT's president, William Powers.
Texas A&M did the same last month, and it was seen as a precursor to the school leaving the Big 12 and applying for membership with the Southeastern Conference. Boren explicitly cautioned against thinking OU was doing the same thing Monday.
A couple of different times, he insisted the Big 12 is not yet dead, even if it has been left fractured by the departures or potential departures of now three schools, including also last year's defections by Colorado and Nebraska.
But even in making the statement of Big 12 hope, Boren still fit the Pac-12 into the same breath.
“I think there is a possibility the Big 12 survives,” Boren said. “We have not taken off the table our possibility of remaining in the Big 12. That's an option we've not taken off the table.
“Nor have we taken off the option of going to the Pac-12. Of course, the ball would be in our court to make application for membership, should we decide to do so.”
The Big 12 office released a statement Monday evening saying it was not caught off guard by the decisions made by the league's two foremost members. Commissioner Dan Beebe has not yet given up, he said.
“It is my opinion that the case for the Big 12 Conference continues to be as strong today for all of our current members as it was last year,” Beebe said. “We continue to apply all effort and resources toward assuring our members that maintaining the Big 12 is in the best interest for their institutions.”
Sources continue to say the most likely scenario is for Oklahoma and Oklahoma State – and likely Texas and Texas Tech, too – to join the Pac-12 in the not-too-distant future. It could still happen as early as this week.
Without being asked, Boren made sure to include OSU in his plans. That school's board will convene Wednesday, it announced Monday. OSU's regents are expected to grant its president, Burns Hargis, the same authority Boren was given Monday. Boren said he has regularly spoken with Hargis.
“Whatever we do, we're going to do it together,” he said. “I think that's very good news for the state of Oklahoma. It shows the kind of quality of cooperation and unity that strengthens our state.”
Texas remains a different animal in that regard.
“I think we're always stronger when Texas and Oklahoma move together, just like we're stronger when Oklahoma and Oklahoma State work together,” Boren said. “We have different perspectives. I'd put it this way: We're listening with respect to each other, at this point in time. It's too early to tell whether we'll make a common decision or not.”
The Longhorns have had discussions with the Pac-12, multiple sources from both leagues have said, but there is some distance between the parties because of the Longhorn Network and how it would fit into the expanded league.
The 'Horns want to compromise as little as possible on their TV deal, in the first year of a $300 million contract with ESPN. And the Pac-12 does not want a TV network that creates animosity or an unfair advantage in any way, relative to other league members. It is believed Texas' network would have to fold neatly into the Pac-12's current structure of state-by-state regional networks.
The Longhorn Network, in that scenario, would also incorporate Texas Tech programming. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State's theoretical network would likewise have joint programming. Boren made mention of progress toward OU's own network.
Texas or no Texas, Boren vowed to move forward.
“We're absolutely committed to doing what's best for the University of Oklahoma,” he said. “Working with Oklahoma State University, we're both committed to doing what's best, we think, for our two institutions and the state. But we're not going to cede our sovereignty in this question to anybody else, to any university in any other state.”
Boren concluded his interview session by remembering a conversation with Margaret Thatcher.
“I said, ‘What have you learned most from your experiences in life?'” Boren said. “She said, ‘Always expect the unexpected.'
“Beyond that, I don't know. If I knew the answer of what we were going to do, I would reveal it.”