For all practical purposes, the long-term future of the Big 12 shifted Monday into the hands of school presidents at Texas and Oklahoma.
Regents at each school authorized their presidents to explore other conference affiliations, with Oklahoma President David Boren given the authority to "take any and all actions necessary" to move the Sooners into a new league and Texas President Bill Powers empowered to "negotiate and execute" documents to move, pending approval of UT regents.
But whether the Red River rivals remain in the same league once realignment is complete -- either in the Big 12 or in a tandem move to the Pac-12 -- is not a given, Boren said after Monday's regents meeting in Claremore, Okla.
Boren said the two schools "have different perspectives" in regard to realignment and it is "too early to tell whether we'll make a common decision or not."
The one thing that is clear, said Boren, is that Oklahoma will not wait on Texas to decide its path.
"We're not going to cede our sovereignty in this question to anybody else, to any university in any other state," said Boren, adding that OU is committed to working with Oklahoma State in finding a stable conference home for both schools.
Oklahoma State regents meet Wednesday to take action in regard to conference alignment, triggering speculation that the Oklahoma schools could soon be applying for membership in the Pac-12. Boren identified OU's options as the Big 12 or Pac-12. A Big 12 source said Monday that the departures of OU and OSU appear to be a matter of "when, not if."
Whether the Oklahoma schools would be joined in a four-team move to the Pac-12 by Texas and Texas Tech -- an idea that gained traction Sunday but cooled some by Monday -- remains unclear.
Powers declined comment after Monday's regents meeting in Austin, saying the school is involved in an "ongoing process" that he will not discuss until it is over. To join the Pac-12, Texas would have to modify its Longhorn Network -- a 20-year, $300 million venture in partnership with ESPN -- to become one of the Pac-12's regional networks, a move that would require more negotiations.
Texas officials have been public about their desire to keep the Big 12 alive, a stance that football coach Mack Brown reiterated on Monday's teleconference with league coaches.
"I think the University of Texas wants to stay in the Big 12. I want to stay in the Big 12," Brown said.
But that prospect seems to be fading after Sunday's announcement that the ACC has added current Big East members Syracuse and Pittsburgh. The move boosted ACC membership to 14 schools, effective in 2014, and opened the door to widespread realignment negotiations aimed at creating 16-team conferences to enhance TV contracts and lay the groundwork for a possible playoff system.
Texas has been mentioned as an ACC expansion target and sources said the school seems at least a week away from deciding its future because multiple options remain under consideration. Mike Tranghese, former Big East commissioner, told a New York radio station Monday that Texas is "strong enough" to emerge as a Big Ten expansion target, along with Notre Dame, if that league decides to become active on the realignment front.
The uncertainty grips the college landscape, where a Big 12 source confirmed discussions of a possible merger between teams from the Big 12 and Big East -- the league TCU will join next year -- if those leagues lose multiple schools in the current wave of realignment. The Idaho Statesman reported a possible merger between teams from the Mountain West and Conference USA, with MWC commissioner Craig Thompson raising the possibility of bringing back TCU.
"There are contingency plans being made for contingency plans," said one Big 12 source. "There are so many moving parts, all possibilities remain in play."
The source said that includes Texas staying in the Big 12 to try and rebuild from a seven-member nucleus without OU, OSU and A&M.
Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe issued a statement saying he "anticipated" the moves made Monday by regents at Texas and OU and that the case for continuing the league remains "as strong today ... as it was last year," when the league almost dissolved before stabilizing.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760