Gil LeBreton

Eight more years of annual big checks keeping Oklahoma in Big 12

You probably missed it, but the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum, the man who made Phyllis from Mulga famous and helped to make tree-killer Harvey Updyke the convicted felon that he is, tossed out his two cents on the Big 12 Conference’s future last week.

The Big 12 chose to officially ignore him.

My old friend Finebaum, a protected species in SEC country, told a Birmingham, Ala., radio station that Oklahoma “pretty desperately” wants out.

I call fake news.

Meeting in Phoenix last weekend, Big 12 athletic directors didn’t even address the Finebaum “report.” One went so far as to wince when I told him I wanted to write about it.

“It’s just not true,” the athletic director said.

I believe the AD. But when a clown yells “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, the fire truck comes anyway. That’s the way this works, as the guys at ESPN well know.

“I think the Big 12 is in big trouble,” Finebaum said on radio station WJOX. “I don’t think the Big 12 as we know it will still be in existence in five years.”

Finebaum continued, “I can think of one school in the Big 12 that would like out pretty desperately ... and that school is the University of Oklahoma.”

Yawn. Here we go again.

Nary a month goes by that somebody from somewhere else isn’t loading up the Sooner chuck wagon and predicting a trip east ... or north ... or over them thar TV towers.

Finebaum predicted that when the Big 12 implodes, it will be because of the lack of a conference TV network.

“Which is critical in this world of exploding television reality,” Finebaum said. “And I don’t know how you can really survive like that.”

So says a guy whose primary income comes from exploding TVs.

But it’s not as if the Big 12 is making chump change for its 10 members. A year ago, the league handed out checks for $30.4 million to each school. When it announces this year’s payouts next month, the take-home for each Big 12 member is expected to fall somewhere behind the Big Ten’s and SEC’s distributions but “far ahead” of the Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast Conference, all of which have their own networks.

TCU, Baylor and Texas Tech can certainly live with that. And I’ve got to think Oklahoma can, too. It really, for now, has no realistic other choice.

The Big 12’s grant of rights don’t expire for another eight years. The SEC or Big Ten isn’t going to write Oklahoma a quarter-billion-dollar welcome check.

The Longhorn Network, admittedly, remains an ongoing burr in the Big 12’s saddle. But don’t expect Texas to give back one penny of its 20-year, $300 million deal.

If nothing else, it binds the Longhorns — and, by default, Oklahoma — to the Big 12.

Rather than look for ripcords and escape chutes, therefore, the Sooners and Longhorns should know their first mission is to improve their products on the football field.

That’s really what any talk of comparing conferences is all about, because the Big 12 is playing for championships, men’s and women’s, in nearly every other sport — basketball, baseball, softball, tennis, swimming and on and on.

The perception of Big 12 football has clouded because it has only sent one team to the CFP playoff in three seasons. Beginning this season, however, the league champion will have had to negotiate a full nine-game round-robin, plus double-down on a rematch in the new conference title game.

If Oklahoma is desperate to go anywhere, that should be it.

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