NORMAN — With the Pac-12 Conference eschewing expansion late Tuesday night, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and everyone else in the beleaguered Big 12 Conference appears to have one option: staying in the Big 12 Conference.
If the league is stable enough, that is, for everyone to remain together.
Earlier Tuesday night, a source told the Tulsa World that commissioner Dan Beebe’s immediate removal and a change in the University of Texas’ Longhorn Network was the only way OU (and thus OSU) would stay in the Big 12.
But just after 10 p.m. Tuesday, Pac-12 presidents and chancellors affirmed their decision to remain a 12-team conference.
“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,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said. “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.
“With new landmark TV agreements and plans to launch our innovative television networks, we are going to focus solely on these great assets, our strong heritage and the bright future in front of us.”
“We were not surprised by the Pac-12’s decision to not expand at this time,” OU president David Boren said. “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.”
A source told the World earlier that Boren would visit with Big 12 chairman of the board (and Missouri chancellor) Brady Deaton to discuss major changes in the Big 12. The source said Boren would know by the end of the week whether OU was joining the Pac-12 or staying in the Big 12, with the Big 12 only an option if Beebe were removed and the LHN was altered.
The source said Beebe remaining atop the Big 12 was “a deal-breaker.”
That bargaining chip, however, may be gone, though Boren on Monday publicly decried a lack of leadership “in the conference office” that led to the departure of Nebraska and Colorado last year and, seemingly, Texas A&M this year.
The source also said if Beebe was removed (it is believed Boren has enough votes to make that happen), Boren would agree to a 10-team Big 12 that included BYU, TCU or Air Force, or a 12-team league that included all three.
On Monday, OU’s seven-member board of regents granted Boren the authority to act on the school’s conference affiliation. At a press conference afterward on the OU-Tulsa campus, Boren said that outside of remaining in the Big 12, the Pac-12 was Oklahoma’s “principal focus” and that whatever was decided between OU and Oklahoma State, “we’re going to do it together.”
The World’s source said the OU regents were pushing to join the Pac-12, but said Boren, who also favored the Pac-12’s high academic standards, had remained undecided.
The Oklahoman first reported Tuesday afternoon that OU wanted Beebe’s ouster and quoted an unnamed, high-ranking Big 12 source who said it would take “major, major reforms” to keep OU from leaving the Big 12 and applying for membership to the Pac-12.
For now, though, it appears OU, OSU, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas and Texas Tech will make up the 9-team Big 12 starting in 2012.
“The status quo is certainly not stable,” Boren said Monday. “That’s one of the things we’re weighing: can it be made stable?”
Texas A&M has said repeatedly it intends to leave for the Southeastern Conference (A&M awaits only a formal introduction) just one year after Nebraska left for the Big Ten and Colorado left for an expanded Pac-12.
“You take the Big Ten, SEC, the Pac-12, their conference office runs circles around our conference in capability, not to mention bias,” the Oklahoman’s source said. “This commissioner totally cost us Texas A&M.”
But with the Pac-12’s decision Tuesday night, Big 12 leadership might make one final push to keep the Aggies. Beebe’s ouster might be the play that makes A&M change its mind.
OU would accept an interim commissioner, the World’s source said, but wants Beebe gone immediately and wants the Big 12 to conduct a national search for its next commissioner.
The World’s source said Tuesday there was no discussion on the table about the Sooners and Cowboys joining the Southeastern Conference and that the Big 12 and the Pac-12 were the only options for the two schools.
The source said any differences in revenue between the Big 12 and Pac-12 were “a wash.”
Boren said Monday he simply wants a more level playing field.
“I want to see a conference in which all the members play an equal role,” Boren said Monday. “Whatever conference we join, or whatever conference we stay in — and those are obviously the two major options — the University of Oklahoma has no ambition to dominate any conference.
“We simply have ambition of being a member, an equal member, of a conference, playing by the same rules, having a level playing field for all the members of that conference, developing a high level of trust in each other.”