Paths Clear for OU, UT to Dump Big 12

By Jeff Latzke and Jim Vertuno
|  Monday, Sep 19, 2011  |  Updated 10:47 PM CDT
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Paths Clear for OU, UT to Dump Big 12

Oklahoma cleared the way Monday for its possible departure from the Big 12, with university president David Boren demanding the league move toward an equal revenue-sharing model and create stability or else lose the Sooners to the Pac-12.

Rival Texas also moved closer to the door, raising the prospect that one of the nation's biggest conferences could lose its two richest, most powerful programs.

After being granted the power to choose a new conference home for the Sooners, Boren said he is focused on only two options: a fractured Big 12 that isn't currently suitable or the expanding Pac-12, which already claimed Oklahoma's conference rival, Colorado, last summer.

"The status quo is certainly not stable," Boren said. "That's one of the things we're weighing: Can it be made stable?"

Texas counterpart Bill Powers, granted similar decision-making power by his regents less than an hour later, said he would consider options "including continued participation in the Big 12" but made no mention of the Pac-12, the ACC or any other potential destinations.

The Big 12 has moved to the brink of extinction just one summer after the remaining 10 members pledged to stick together, then hammered out a $1.2 billion television contract. They decided not to create a conference network similar to the ones in place by the Big Ten and Pac-12, not to split revenue equally and not to create any barriers to Texas' creation of the Longhorn Network through a 20-year, $300 million agreement with ESPN that proved to be divisive.

"I would simply say it is not a strong vote of confidence in the conference office that this has happened in such a short period of time," Boren said.

Texas A&M has already said it plans to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference by July if legal issues can be addressed. If Oklahoma leaves, so will Oklahoma State.

"Whatever we do, we're going to do it together and I think that's very good news for the state of Oklahoma," Boren said, adding that he speaks daily with Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis.

Oklahoma State's regents have called a special meeting on the topic Wednesday.

"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," Hargis added.

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said in a statement that the conference is "assuring our members that maintaining the Big 12 is in the best interest for their institutions."

"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, especially considering the welfare of those to whom we owe the greatest responsibility -- the student-athletes," Beebe said.

Boren has previously said he would consider the league a better option if it expanded back to 12 teams, and he said Monday that better revenue sharing must also be in place for the Sooners to stick around.

"Our goal is to be an equal partner in any network, and we think it ought to be the goal of every other member of any conference that we're a part of to be an equal member of that conference," Boren said.

"We all ought to value each other -- every single member of that conference -- and none of us should seek to play a stronger leadership role than anyone else."

Texas' regents met privately by telephone before approving a motion that still would require any move executed by Powers to be submitted to the regents for final approval. After the vote, Powers said only that the process is "ongoing" and left without further comment.

Boren said the schools are "always stronger when Texas and Oklahoma move together" but it's possible the two could part ways.

"We have different perspectives," Boren said. "I would put it this way: We're listening with respect to each other at this point in time, but it's too early to tell whether we'll make a common decision or not."

Texas officials have said they want the Big 12 to hold together but would keep "all options" open for the university, including reported discussions with the Pac-12 and ACC. But Texas has little appetite for a Big 12 without rival Oklahoma or Texas A&M.

"Last time everybody talked about where everybody was going, we ended up staying in the same place," Longhorns coach Mack Brown said. "So my thoughts have always been the same: I think the University of Texas wants to stay in the Big 12."

Texas Tech president Guy Bailey said it's a sensitive time and "any comments regarding Tech's plans are premature at this time." Tech's regents are not scheduled to meet until next month.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott has said his league is not necessarily looking to expand, and some university leaders have expressed concerns about expanding again after adding Utah and Colorado this year.

There is no guarantee the Pac-12 presidents will welcome new members, especially if Texas is not one of them.

But ultimately, the Big 12's future likely comes down to whether the schools raking in the most money want to share enough of it with those earning the least, or if they'd rather leave their current rivals behind and chase a bigger paycheck.

Any move by Texas could be complicated by the Longhorn Network as school officials explore whether other leagues would let them keep their recently launched venture or force them to make changes to fit established media rights guidelines. For example, Pac-12 bylaws created six regional networks that are shared by conference schools.

School and conference officials from the Big East and Big 12 have been discussing ways to merge what's left of the two leagues if Texas and Oklahoma leave the Big 12, a person involved in the discussions told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the talks.

The Big East is left with only six football members after Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced plans to join the ACC this weekend, and the Big 12 could be in a similar situation if Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech all join Texas A&M in departing.

Texas lawmakers will be keeping their eyes on any move but are unlikely to interfere, said state Rep. Dan Branch, the Republican chairman of House Higher Education Committee.

Branch said he has told Texas regents and administrators he would like the state's major universities to be rooted in the conference in the middle of the country, not one that is "Los Angeles or Atlantic-centric."

"I hope they will also take into consideration the greater good for Texans," Branch said. "(But) I understand in this new world, we've got to allow those regents and presidents to make those decisions."

The NCAA has no authority over conference affiliations, though NCAA President Mark Emmert said Monday that he has been contacting university presidents and conference commissioners. He said he is urging them to consider the well-being of the student-athletes.

Emmert also said talk of having four or five superconferences is nothing more than conjecture.

College football writer Ralph D. Russo, AP sports writers Stephen Hawkins in Dallas, Michael Marot in Indianapolis and Kristie Rieken in Houston; and Betsy Blaney in Lubbock contributed to this report.

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