The Big 12's future became a hot topic Thursday, with opinions from insiders ranging from the league's inevitable and imminent demise to Texas men's athletic director DeLoss Dodds pondering expansion opportunities aimed at determining where conference officials "want to be 10 years down the road."
The truth lies somewhere between those extremes. But there's no denying the league finds itself vulnerable to poachers, for a second consecutive year, in light of Wednesday's announcement by Texas A&M that it plans to withdraw from the league to pursue membership in the Southeastern Conference.
Would adding Brigham Young, which has begun talks with Big 12 officials about league membership, be enough to save the league as a 10-team entity? Maybe for the short term.
But for the long haul, there is no guarantee that adding BYU -- an independent in football -- would prevent Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State from reviving interest in joining an expanded Pac-12, a move that quartet of schools pondered last summer.
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Big 12 sources confirmed a Thursday report in the Salt Lake Tribune that BYU officials have had discussions with Big 12 officials within the past week about joining the league and what assurances the school would need to make the move. But no invitation has been extended .
Dodds, one of five individuals on the league's expansion committee, said Thursday that he expects any action in regard to expansion to "take some time."
"We're not backed into a corner," Dodds said.
That opinion stands in marked contrast to Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt, who said: "We have got to get back to 10 immediately. That is our focus right now."
It is clear, at this juncture, that every Big 12 school is in self-preservation mode, seeking to cut whatever deal it considers best for itself -- just like A&M is poised to do with the SEC. That places the Big 12's future squarely in the hands of Oklahoma, where administrators have remained silent on the realignment front in light of A&M's decision.
One more defection could cause the Big 12 to crumble and Oklahoma, unlike Texas, has not started its own school-branded network, an entity not allowed under existing Pac-12 guidelines. OU could initiate that contact and Pac-12 officials could tweak existing rules and designate the Longhorn Network as one of its regional networks as part of a combo play to bring in OU, Tech, Texas and OSU to create a 16-team, superconference, as everyone envisioned last summer.
Dodds stressed Thursday that his focus is an expanded Big 12 but acknowledged the door to the Pac-12 is not closed. Dodds is joined on the expansion committee by Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, a man Dodds said is committed to preserving the Big 12's future.
But will there be anything to support after this season? Hocutt wonders.
"To be in this position two years in a row is not ideal," Hocutt said. "It's not something that can continue to occur."
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