Dan Beebe, commissioner of the Big 12 Conference
If you're as tired as the rest of us of hearing about who's in and who's out of the Big 12, just hold on and hope for the best. That appears to be what Big 12 officials are doing.
All might be quiet on the western front for the moment while eight other Big 12 schools wait to learn what Oklahoma intends to do about its league membership, but that hasn't stopped all the talk and conjecture on what lies ahead for the tottering athletic conference.
Retracing what we know: Texas A&M has formally applied for membership to the Southeastern Conference. The Aggies application has been approved, but with the provision that all of the remaining schools in the Big 12 waive their rights to take legal action against A&M and the SEC. Baylor refused to waive its legal rights, and reportedly has been joined in that stand by Kansas and Kansas State. So, for now, Texas A&M is still a member of the Big 12.
Two weeks ago, University of Oklahoma President David Boren told the media that the Sooners are tired of having to deal with the issue of conference realignment and concerns about the future stability of the Big 12, and that OU was "not going to be a wallflower" while this situation drags on and on. Boren said that Oklahoma was looking into its options and would decide on a course of action before the calendar turns to October.
In the meantime, officials from the University of Texas met with Boren and other OU administrators to try to dissuade Oklahoma of any notion of giving up on the Big 12. That meeting was reported to have been cordial, but probably not enough to change Oklahoma's mind on what it wants to do, which a number of sources have reported is to become a member of the Pac-12 and take Oklahoma State with them.
The next milestone event in this continuing saga is expected to be Monday, when the Oklahoma Board of Regents are scheduled to meet, with the prime agenda item being OU's conference affiliation plans for the future. The Board of Regents is expected to approve whatever plan OU administrators present to them, which is looking more and more like a bon voyage from the Big 12, the exact timing of which would still need to be resolved.
In a somewhat ironic twist, Texas, the school that everyone points to as being the central culprit for all the dissatisfaction and dysfunction that has engulfed the Big 12 and led to Nebraska and Colorado standing up and declaring last year that they had had enough of the Longhorns' domineering antics and were leaving the conference, appears to be the institution that is working hardest to hold the Big 12 together.
When you really stop to think about it, why wouldn't Texas feel that way? The Longhorns have things exactly the way they want them in the Big 12. They have the money and the power to do practically anything they want. How do you think the controversial Longhorn Network came about? The cache that the Texas brand brings would be openly welcomed by just about every major athletic conference. The sticking point would be the Longhorn Network, which the Pac-12 and Big Ten, with their own conference networks, would not sanction and would conceivably be a deal-breaker from Texas' point of view because of its economic value that could not be matched by revenue to be gained by changing conferences.
While Texas' first and second preferences are pretty clear - 1) save the Big 12, and 2) save the Big 12 - the Longhorns are not overlooking the necessity to have a third option in the old playbook as well. Although Texas certainly has the means and overall athletic excellence to be independent, that is not what the Horns want. They want to be part of a conference, but one with long-term stability. Last year we heard about Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 all having interest in Texas. There are reports this week that the Atlantic Coast Conference may have reached out very recently to representatives of Texas.
It is interesting to note that amid all of the conversation on conference realignments, mega conferences and the future college sports landscape, the one player with much to lose that has been conspicuously silent in recent days is the Big 12. We know that conference officials were actively engaged in discussions with potential new member schools, but that has all but stopped, pending what happens with Oklahoma. It's uncertain what conference officials can do, if anything, to maintain the status quo at this point, but to hear nothing from the conference office on all of this makes you wonder what they might know that we don't, or is the governing body of the Big 12 simply waiting for all of the smoke to clear before making its next move.
For now, the Big 12 is still whole but extremely wobbly. The Big 12 appears intent on trying to hold the walls together with legal and political stopgap solutions, which in the end may actually wind up accelerating the very outcome you're trying desperately to prevent: a total collapse.