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Star-Telegram.com

Texas A&M may consider independent schedule rather than stay in Big 12

Posted Saturday, Sep. 10, 2011

By Jimmy Burch

jburch@star-telegram.com

As the Big 12's future continued to hang in limbo Friday, a Texas A&M official stressed that the Aggies have no desire to be part of it after June 30, regardless of other schools' efforts to prolong their stay.

"The only thing that is clear is Texas A&M does not intend to be in the Big 12 next season," the official said, reiterating the school's ongoing frustration about having its bid to join the Southeastern Conference blocked by Baylor and other Big 12 schools that declined to waive their legal rights to expedite A&M's move.

"We scorched the earth this week. That's pretty clear ... Other schools are talking [about leaving the Big 12]. We have declared."

A&M's letter of withdrawal from the Big 12 states a departure date of June 30, 2012. An exit at that point without a conference affiliation would require A&M to play an independent football schedule in 2012. The official did not say that would be the case.

But he said school administrators have discussed "a lot of what ifs" in regard to its future if A&M's conditional bid to the SEC is not upgraded to full acceptance. And continued membership in the Big 12 after the 2011-12 school year is not considered an option.

"The sooner that some people understand or accept that A&M is leaving, the better the situation is for everyone," the official said.

The comments came one day after Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis told CBSSports.com: "I don't think it's a fait accompli A&M is gone. Obviously, the SEC had a string on their bid."

Hargis made his comment at Thursday's OSU-Arizona football game in Stillwater, Okla. During the same game, OSU booster Boone Pickens -- namesake of the Cowboys' stadium -- told an ESPN audience that it would be in his school's "best interest" to remain in the Big 12 and that he was optimistic that a change in league bylaws to a more equal distribution of TV revenues would hold the Big 12 together.

Pickens' comments stood in marked contrast to his take on the Big 12's future from Sept. 3, when he expressed interest in joining Oklahoma in an expanded Pac-12. Texas and Texas Tech also have been mentioned as possible Pac-12 expansion targets.

But movement on the realignment front has been stalled since Tuesday night, when Baylor President Ken Starr blocked A&M's anticipated move to the SEC by saying he would reserve the right to sue for damages if A&M left the league. SEC presidents approved A&M's membership with a contingency that every Big 12 school must waive the right to future legal claims. Thus far, that has not happened.

In the interim, Big 12 officials have considered tweaks to the existing conference structure -- from revenue-sharing procedures to bylaws to concessions from Texas in regard to its Longhorn Network -- that might convince Oklahoma to remain part of a nine-team nucleus, without A&M, that would explore Big 12 expansion.

Oklahoma President David Boren said last week that his school would consider other conference options. Hargis followed with a statement saying his school would remain aligned with OU.

Texas officials have said they would prefer to remain in the Big 12, where league rules allow them to keep the Longhorn Network. In the Pac-12, rules would require the network be downsized and shared with another school.

Before Friday night's Arizona State-Missouri game in Tempe, Ariz., Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said: "We hope there is no expansion.... We're not actively working on anything. This is a major distraction."

In June, Big 12 officials tweaked league bylaws to mandate that the first 75 percent of conference TV revenues be split evenly among all schools, with the final 25 percent based on appearances in ABC/ESPN telecasts. In previous years, the breakdown was tipped even more heavily to teams that made ABC/ESPN appearances. Other leagues split TV revenues evenly.

One league source indicated that "all issues will be on the table and addressed" if the Big 12 can emerge from its latest stretch of instability with Texas and Oklahoma still part of a nine-team nucleus. Brigham Young, an independent in football, remains a leading expansion candidate.

Asked if the Big 12 could be saved, the source said: "There's still a lot of moving parts. Until I hear [OU's] David Boren come out with a statement one way or the other, I'm not feeling comfortable."

Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

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