As buzzards begin circling, anticipating the imminent demise of the Big 12, top state lawmakers are reaching out to slow the realignment process.
Multiple league sources confirmed Sunday that Texas lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, are preparing to take a more active role in determining whether Texas A&M should head to the Southeastern Conference and whether Texas should join Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech as part of a four-school move to an expanded Pac-12.
One league source said Sunday that the anticipated interest from lawmakers probably "has more to do with Texas" than A&M because a Longhorns move to the Pac-12 -- if finalized -- could kill the Big 12. A&M announced plans Wednesday to withdraw from the Big 12, pending an invitation to the SEC.
Dewhurst's office said he is following the situation.
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"Lt. Gov. Dewhurst's primary focus is to ensure the best possible outcome for all Texas universities," said Dewhurst spokesperson Mike Walz in an e-mail response to questions from the Star-Telegram.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry's office said only, "The governor believes these decisions are up to each school," according to spokesperson Lucy Nashed in an e-mail.
A&M's action triggered statements over the weekend from school presidents at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, who announced plans to explore other conference options in concert with one another. In a Friday interview, Oklahoma President David Boren said his school's athletic future could be determined "within 72 hours." A Sunday report in The Oklahoman said OU's "sole focus" is on joining the Pac-12 after passing on the opportunity to do so last summer.
OSU President Burns Hargis said Saturday that his school will remain connected to OU because such a move is "in the best interest of our institutions and the state of Oklahoma."
A departure by either, or both, schools in Oklahoma could spell the death knell for the Big 12. As one league official said Sunday, "If Oklahoma decides to leave, I don't think it matters what the [Texas] Legislature does. There won't be anything left to save."
Before Saturday's Oregon-LSU game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said schools have approached him in the past week regarding expansion and indicated he would not be surprised to see more realignment in the near future.
"I feel like further consolidation and more stability would be a healthy thing for college football," Scott said. "Right now, there is obviously some instability that I don't particularly think is a healthy thing in some parts of the country."
It is possible that only Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could join the Pac-12, if invited, thereby leaving the Texas-based schools to figure it out for themselves.
Although Pac-12 rules prohibit single-school networks, such as Texas' recently launched Longhorn Network, it is possible that the network could be adapted to fit into the existing Pac-12 model if Texas chooses to join that league. A source close to the situation said Saturday night that it would be "difficult but not impossible" for the LHN to be adapted into the existing Pac-12 structure, which includes one league-wide network and six regional networks, each featuring two schools.
Under that model, an eventual Pac-16 could include an adapted version of the LHN as a two-team regional network (featuring Texas and Tech), with another regional network featuring OU and OSU.
If the Big 12 implodes, there has been speculation about the Big East seeking to bring in the five remaining Big 12 schools (Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State) as part of an expanded football league in 2012. Another scenario could include the Big East going after only Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri. TCU will join the Big East next season.
Austin Bureau Chief Dave Montgomery contributed to this report.
Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760