September 5, 2011

Commentary: When Texas A&M leaves, Big 12 will soon follow

Get ready for the Big 12's countdown to oblivion.

Neither the threat of political intervention, nor the advice of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, seems to be slowing the imminent demise of the Big 12 Conference.

The Countdown to Oblivion Tour is expected to reach critical mass this week, with Texas A&M batting leadoff. Look for the Aggies to formally announce plans to join the Southeastern Conference, possibly today and certainly by Wednesday, with at least a two-school exodus to the Pac-12 -- involving Oklahoma and Oklahoma State -- surfacing soon thereafter. Texas and Texas Tech could join the move but that remained unclear Monday night.

Movement on the Pac-12 front could happen as early as Friday, if Texas buys in to the concept.

But Texas administrators have professed a desire to salvage the Big 12 through expansion after A&M departs and reportedly were sounding out ways Monday to keep the league intact and other realignment options. ACC commissioner John Swofford denied a report Monday about Texas possibly becoming part of an expanded ACC. If Texas cannot woo the Oklahoma schools back to the Big 12 fold, it could get messy.

It remains hard to disregard the weekend statements of Oklahoma President David Boren and Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis, who hinted strongly about a desire for westward movement.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops gave his blessing to the idea of a college landscape dotted by 16-team superconferences during Monday's Big 12 coaches teleconference.

"It seems that's the direction the world is going," he said. "If it is, so be it."

Could an announcement come Friday, a day after OSU's Thursday game against Arizona and during the Sooners' bye week? The football schedule offers a natural lull this weekend for the Oklahoma schools and Boren indicated a desire to secure his school's future ASAP. Boren, who met last week with Texas President Bill Powers, also indicated it could take two weeks to decide his school's future.

From all indications, OU wants to remain linked to Texas. During a Monday news conference, Texas coach Mack Brown seemed resigned to the reality of leagues like the Pac-16.

"If we go to 16-team conferences, we may end up having a team win a national championship at 8-5 or 9-5," Brown said. "It's going to change who we are. But if it's headed that way, everybody will jump in and do it."

Brown made it clear that he would prefer to remain in an expanded version of the Big 12 but acknowledged that Texas, unlike other schools, will have options.

"We were told last year we could join any league in the country," Brown said, reflecting on the chaotic summer of 2010, when the Big 12 almost dissolved. "We were told we could go independent. We'll end up where we want to end up. And that's OK. I feel sorry for some schools that will have to scramble to find a place. We won't."

As Texas officials search for clarity about their future, the possibility of joining a four-team move to the Pac-12 continues to gain traction because the school's Longhorn Network could become a regional network under existing conference rules.

Of course, that would require compromise -- never a Texas strong suit, dating to Southwest Conference days. But these are dire times and the Longhorns may be out of better options if they don't want to wind up as an independent. And from all indications, they do not.

As Monday night progressed, one league source described the situation as "utter chaos" on the realignment front, with a lot of "wonky" scenarios being floated as other conferences prepare to respond to A&M's impending move to the SEC.

The threatened involvement of Texas politicians in the realignment process -- which could come later this week -- has done nothing to slow A&M's march to the SEC. Nor has it enhanced the stability of the Big 12, which Cuban declared is an entity worth saving.

He predicted the concept of 16-team conferences "will turn into a huge mistake" because the money won't prove to be better and natural geographic rivalries will be destroyed.

But all signs point to college administrators charging ahead, full-speed, on the realignment front once A&M leaves.

"Once that domino falls, a lot of talks will begin in earnest," one league administrator said. "It's going to be an interesting week."

The Big 12 may not be left with a future by the time it ends.

Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

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