Optimism surfaces that Big 12 can be salvaged without Texas A&M

09/11/2011 12:01 AM

06/08/2013 11:54 PM

Texas A&M is sitting on a conditional offer to join the Southeastern Conference.

But the Aggies cannot leave the Big 12 until Baylor and other league schools waive their rights to legal claims in regard to the move.

Oklahoma has announced plans to explore other conference options, notably the Pac-12, and Oklahoma State has pledged to remain with the Sooners.

Before Friday night's Arizona State-Missouri game in Tempe, Ariz., Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said he hopes there is no expansion in college football's immediate future but conceded his league would have to re-evaluate if the dominoes start falling.

"If schools are going to leave the Big 12 ... we'll go ahead and step back and look at our options," Scott said before Saturday's USC-Utah game in Los Angeles.

Against that backdrop, Big 12 officials have discussed 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.

Multiple Big 12 administrators expressed growing optimism Saturday that the league can be salvaged. One high-ranking administrator said "the lava is cooling" after last week's announcement of conference exploration plans by Oklahoma President David Boren sent tremors through the league.

Another said the nine league presidents working to save the league are "people who like each other a lot more than is being portrayed" in media reports and believe that Scott's stance on Friday night suggests that Pac-12 presidents have dug in their heels in regard to expansion. At least for now.

In an interview with the New York Times, Baylor President Ken Starr told the newspaper that the Big 12 is in "a fluid situation," but league officials are "cautiously optimistic" about its future.

But nothing is assured. At this juncture, one Big 12 official said: "All options are on the table."

That leaves a lot of unanswered questions on the college realignment front. Here are some of them:

Could the SEC remove the conditional status from A&M's bid without legal waivers from Big 12 schools?

It could, but SEC presidents have remained steadfast in that demand as a condition of A&M's acceptance as the league's 13th member. The SEC does not have to expand but would be able to boost the value of existing TV contracts if it adds A&M, and possibly other schools.

Which Big 12 schools are blocking A&M's move?

Three schools -- Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas -- have expressed plans to retain their legal rights in relation to A&M's proposed move and its impact on the league's 13-year, $1.3 billion deal signed in April with Fox Sports.

How long will this stalemate last?

Probably not that long. Oklahoma State booster Boone Pickens, namesake of the Cowboys' football stadium, said Thursday that he expects a resolution "pretty quick." Oklahoma President David Boren told fellow Big 12 presidents in a Wednesday conference call that he expects a decision within three weeks in regard to his school's future home.

What does Texas want to do?

Texas prefers to remain in the Big 12, where it would be allowed to keep the Longhorn Network and its 20-year, $300 million contract with ESPN. That option does not exist in most other leagues.

Could the other Big 12 teams remain together without A&M?

That's a possibility. Optimism seemed to be building in that direction Friday and Saturday, with Big 12 administrators discussing options to add more stability to the league, which lost Nebraska and Colorado to other conferences last year, in an effort to entice Oklahoma officials to remain part of a nine-school nucleus that would explore Big 12 expansion.

One bargaining chip involves a possible move toward equal revenue sharing from all league-generated TV revenues.

That would be unprecedented for the Big 12, although it is common in other leagues.

From all indications, every school but Oklahoma seems to be on board with that proposal. Under that model, each school would then retain its third-tier TV rights and the option to create its own network -- by itself or in conjunction with other schools -- similar to the Longhorn Network and keep those revenues for itself.

OU officials have considered creation of their own network, an idea the school would have to abandon or modify as a Pac-12 member.

Why would Texas be on board with a move to equal revenue sharing in the Big 12?

Because it could keep the Longhorn Network as a national brand without having to modify it, or abandon it, as part of a move to another league.

Could Texas become an independent in football?

It's possible. But school officials have indicated that is not their preferred option. Scheduling challenges would be monumental for sports other than football. And bowl options are limited for football independents because most postseason berths are tied to conferences.

Where would the Big 12 turn for an expansion partner(s)?

Brigham Young, an independent in football without direct access to a BCS bowl opportunity, would be a logical addition. Sources at BYU and the Big 12 confirmed preliminary discussions before Boren's announcement last week about OU exploring other conference options.

Ever since, a Big 12 source said league administrators have been "looking inward" about ways to stabilize the league before resuming talks with expansion candidates.

Officials at Notre Dame and Arkansas have made it clear they are not interested in Big 12 expansion overtures. Other than BYU, the Big 12 has had discussions about a three-school expansion group from the Big East (Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Louisville). Houston and Air Force also remain possibilities.

Could the Big 12 break up?

That's a possibility. And it becomes a probability if Oklahoma accepts an invitation to join an expanded Pac-12 as part of its conference exploration options.

What happens if OU chooses the Pac-12?

Oklahoma State, from all indications, joins OU in making that move. Texas and Texas Tech, in all likelihood, also would be part of a four-team shift in that direction.

Such a move almost occurred last summer before Big 12 officials opted to remain a 10-member league.

Couldn't Pac-12 expansion trigger lawsuits from the same schools retaining their legal rights to sue in the event of an A&M/SEC move?

Absolutely. That is why Pac-12 officials want the A&M/SEC situation settled before they extend any invitations.

If the Big 12 implodes, where would the remaining schools wind up?

Multiple outlets have reported interest from the Big East in adding Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State to its league to boost its number of football-playing schools and create two divisions, with a league championship game.

Missouri also would be welcomed in that mix, from all indications, but could wind up with an opportunity to join an expanded SEC or, possibly, an expanded Big Ten.

How close are we to complete chaos on the realignment front?

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart told the Birmingham News this week that he anticipates a "massive explosion" of realignment if dominoes start falling. Hart said widespread realignment is "potentially coming quicker than people would have imagined" if A&M joins the SEC or if the Pac-12 expands.

Could Baylor's legal posturing permanently scuttle A&M's bid to join the SEC?

That is not expected to be the case. But A&M's invitation will remain in limbo unless the SEC removes the conditional status from its bid or Baylor and other Big 12 schools stand down from the possibility of future legal action.

What happens if A&M moves to a 13-member SEC for the 2012 football season?

Auburn President Jay Gogue expressed a willingness last week for his school to move to the SEC's East Division as part of conference expansion if the Tigers could retain Alabama as a permanent opponent.

Gogue also told the Birmingham News that the SEC could operate in the short-term as a 13-member league with A&M possibly spending 2012 in the West Division and 2013 in the East Division before a 14th team is added.

An A&M official said that option is not something that has been discussed with A&M and that it would be "premature" for school officials to weigh in with an opinion.

At this point, he said A&M "has got to get into the conference first."

Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

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