Pac-12 stays put, limiting options for OU and OSU

BY BERRY TRAMEL Staff Writer btramel@opubco.com Published: September 21, 2011

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.

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