Conference Realignment Focus Shifts

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    The conference realignment shuffle has shifted to the Big 12, with all eyes on Oklahoma and Texas.

    The conference realignment shuffle has shifted to the Big 12, with all eyes on Oklahoma and Texas.

    The regents governing the two powerhouse programs scheduled meetings two hours apart Monday afternoon to discuss conference affiliation, with the chance that either one -- or both -- could join now ACC-bound Pittsburgh and Syracuse in making a move.

    Oklahoma State regents scheduled a special meeting Wednesday on conference membership and school officials said they are working closely with the Sooners.

    "Oklahoma State has attractive options and we are working with our colleagues at the University of Oklahoma to make sure the best interests of both institutions and our state are achieved," OSU President Burns Hargis said. "We will be prepared at the appropriate time to take whatever steps are necessary for Oklahoma State."

    The trend toward 16-team superconferences picked up steam Sunday when the Atlantic Coast Conference announced it was officially picking off longtime Big East schools Pitt and Syracuse to continue cannibalizing its northern neighbor. Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College left the league for the ACC in recent years, and now the Big East is left trying to hang on to its five football members and find a way to survive in an ever-changing college sports landscape.

    But what impact will that have on the Big 12?

    David Boren, Oklahoma's university president, made it known more than two weeks ago that his school was shopping for a possible new home for the second straight summer after entertaining thoughts of joining what would become the Pac-12 or the SEC.

    Instead, the Sooners decided to be content in a downsized, 10-team Big 12 -- until Texas A&M, frustrated by rival Texas' Longhorn Network, further fractured the conference by seeking out a spot as the SEC's 13th member.

    Boren said he expected Oklahoma's decision to come within a three-week span that runs out this week, conveniently after the board of regents is poised to grant him the power to choose a new conference at a Monday meeting in Tulsa, Okla. Texas' regents will meet two hours later in Austin with the same move on their agenda.

    "This time things seem to be moving more quickly than a year ago," said Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti, refusing to commit to the Big East nor express interest in joining the exodus to the ACC. "If that's a sign of things to come, it is hard to say, but I do think as more pieces continue to be in motion it starts to trickle down to more people in the process.

    "I would imagine the next 30 days are going to be a telling period of time for our entire industry."
     With two teams already leaving last year -- Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-12 -- the Big 12 is in a precarious position as its two richest, most powerful programs flirt with new partners. Oklahoma State is likely to follow Oklahoma wherever it goes, and Texas Tech would likely do the same with Texas.
    If all four go, and A&M heads to the SEC, it would leave just five Big 12 teams in the same quandary as the Big East's orphaned programs.

    "Oklahoma plays a leadership role in our conference, like they always have, and we respect our colleagues there and certainly hope they will continue to look at the viability and strengths of our league," Kansas State athletic director John Currie said.

    The movement toward megaconferences has centered on leveraging billion-dollar television contracts at the expense of traditional rivalries and simpler logistics. The Big Ten showed everyone the potential with a first-of-its-kind conference network, and the Pac-12 also turned its increased membership into a big-time TV deal.

    The ACC is following suit with its move to 14 teams, while the Big 12 is finding out its $1.2 billion deal apparently didn't go far enough because it left a loophole allowing the creation of the Longhorn Network through a 20-year, $300 million agreement between Texas and ESPN.

    That played a large role in Texas A&M's decision to leave that does not share revenue equally among its members. It's move to the SEC is on hold because of the threat of lawsuits by Big 12 members including Baylor. Several influential Baylor alumni and University of Texas benefactor B.J. "Red" McCombs took out full-page ads in Texas newspapers Sunday suggesting the Big 12 is "a conference not only worth fighting for, it's worth waging peace for."

    "I'd say the Aggies need to sit down and work out their problems," said Oklahoma State booster T. Boone Pickens, emphasizing that he doesn't speak for the school. "I think Texas is the real problem in the conference. They have a different deal than everybody else's. I think it's going to have to be equal.

    "So, the problems I see are in the conference, and they need to be resolved or every year you're going to have another brouhaha and have problems. So, get it fixed."

    The ACC seemed to cement its future together by not only adding members but increasing the exit penalty to $20 million. The Big East's exit fee is only $5 million, but schools wanting to leave are supposed to provide 27 months' notice.

    By then, the shifts in college athletics could touch every school from the BCS level on down. Connecticut and Rutgers are among the schools already being mentioned if the ACC expands again, and Commissioner John Swofford said the league is "not philosophically opposed to 16" members.

    And the leftover teams in the Big East -- and potentially, the Big 12 -- will need to find new dance partners to keep their status as BCS automatic qualifiers, if that system even survives.

     "I can say that in all my years of collegiate athletics administration, I've never seen this level of uncertainty and potential fluidity in schools and conferences," Swofford said. "Schools, they're looking for stability, and when that stability doesn't exist, for whatever reason, as long as that's going on, I think the conferences that appear to be stable moving forward are going to receive inquiries from schools that are desirous of having that kind of stability."

    No one wants to be left behind.