It wasn’t unexpected, but nonetheless it was news the Big 12 hoped not to hear when the University of Texas and University of Oklahoma board regents both voted Monday to give their respective presidents the latitude to explore switching conference affiliation.
The exit of the two flagship schools would mean the end of the Big 12 as we know it. Texas A&M is already all but gone to the SEC once the legal threat is dropped.
Both Texas and Oklahoma have been in play since the Aggies announced they were leaving the league and the SEC voted them in. The Big 12 had already been severely crippled a year ago when both Nebraska and Colorado announced they were leaving for the Big Ten and Pac-12, respectively. The recent move by A&M made everyone question the realistic viability of the Big 12 as a power conference.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have zeroed in on the Pac-12 as their potential landing spot, while Texas and Texas Tech could end up either in the Pac-12 or the expanding ACC.
UT president William Powers and Oklahoma president David Boren now officially have the authority to explore changing conferences and both are expected to submit applications to the Pac-12 soon. But there is little secret both schools would rather remain in the Big 12 if it can be made viable. Texas wants to save its Longhorn Network, which could be affected with a move to either the Pac-12 or ACC.
“The status quo is certainly not stable,” Boren told reporters in Oklahoma. “That’s one of the things we’re weighing: Can it be made stable?”
The answer to Boren’s question seems to be no because of the perceived instability of the Big 12. The conference nearly broke up in the summer of 2010 when Nebraska and Colorado departed. Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech were working on a deal to merge with the then Pac-10 schools to form a 16-team conference. But Texas eventually backed out in favor of remaining in the Big 12 where it could launch its lucrative Longhorn Network.
Now just over a year later, and even with a $1.2 billion television deal, the league is in jeopardy of crumbling again. The lack of commitment by Texas and Oklahoma makes it highly unlikely other schools from other conferences would join the Big 12 not knowing if the threat of members leaving will keep coming up, not the mention the concerns the television partners would have.
Therefore the Big 12 is likely headed for extinction soon after the OU and Texas board of regents decisions on Monday.
“The actions taken today by the governing boards of the universities of Oklahoma and Texas was anticipated,” Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said in a released statement. “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.
“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.”
Should either Oklahoma or Texas leave then continuing the Big 12 as we’ve known it would be impossible. There have been at least some preliminary discussions about the remaining Big 12 schools joining forces with the also-crumbling Big East.
The Big East has already expanded into Big 12 country with TCU set to join the conference in 2012. That could open the door for acceptance of Big 12 leftovers Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State (the assumption is Missouri will head to the SEC) to join forces with the four remaining football-playing Big East schools Cincinnati, Louisville, South Florida and West Virginia (assuming UConn and Rutgers both get ACC invites). The merger makes sense because both leagues have automatic BCS qualifying status and could make a strong, if not political, case for that not changing.
But all of this depends on Oklahoma and Texas’ anticipated moves. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott certainly seems open to expanding to 16 to become the country’s first super conference. Now it’s a matter of convincing his presidents that that is best move to the Pac-12. So far there has been no vote for expansion.