Texas and Oklahoma cleared the way Monday for their departure from the Big 12 Conference, with regents at both powerhouse schools giving their presidents the authority to choose a new home.
University of Oklahoma president David Boren said he is focused on either keeping the Sooners in the Big 12 or moving to the Pac-12. And while he said is not inevitable that Oklahoma will leave, he said the league must share television revenue equally among its members for the Sooners to stay.
Texas regents granted president Bill Powers the same decision-making power less than an hour later Monday. Oklahoma State’s regents have called a special meeting on the topic Wednesday and Texas A&M has already said it plans to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference by July if legal issues can be addressed.
If Oklahoma leaves, so will Oklahoma State, Boren said. He said he has been talking with Oklahoma State officials and he expects the in-state rivals to stick together.
“Oklahoma State has attractive options and we are working with our colleagues at the University of Oklahoma to make sure the best interests of both institutions and our state are achieved,” Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis added. “We will be prepared at the appropriate time to take whatever steps are necessary for Oklahoma State.”
The Big 12 did not return a call seeking comment.
It is the second straight year that the landscape of college athletics has been shaken up by alignment changes.
The Big 12 lost Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-12 over the summer and, with A&M’s foot out the door, the league formed after the 1995 season from members of the Big Eight plus four from the old Southwest Conference finds itself in a precarious position.
With Oklahoma State and Texas Tech likely to follow their richer, more powerful neighbors wherever they go, leaving five Big 12 teams in the same quandary as the five Big East football members remaining after Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced plans to join the ACC.
School and conference officials from the Big East and Big 12 have been discussing ways to merge what’s left of the two leagues if Texas and Oklahoma leave the Big 12, a person involved in the discussions told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the talks.
Oklahoma and Texas both flirted with leaving the Big 12 last year but decided to stay. The league put together a $1.2 billion television contract to split among 10 teams but decided not to create a conference network similar to the ones in place by the Big Ten and Pac-12.
The Big 12 also does not have equal revenue sharing like other power conferences, and members bristled after Texas inked a 20-year, $300 million agreement with ESPN to create a Longhorn Network.
The revenue question — and national attention — played a large role in Texas A&M’s decision to leave, but its move to the SEC is on hold because of the threat of lawsuits by Big 12 members including Baylor.
Several influential Baylor alumni and University of Texas benefactor B.J. “Red” McCombs took out full-page ads in Texas newspapers over the weekend suggesting the Big 12 is “a conference not only worth fighting for, it’s worth waging peace for.” Baylor even commissioned a poll on the topic, with its marketing department saying it provided reasons for the league to stick together.
Texas officials have said they want the Big 12 to hold together but would keep “all options” open for the university, including reported discussions with the Pac-12 and ACC.
But Texas has little appetite for a Big 12 without rival Oklahoma or Texas A&M.
“Last time everybody talked about where everybody was going, we ended up staying in the same place,” Longhorns coach Mack Brown said Monday. “So my thoughts have always been the same: I think the University of Texas wants to stay in the Big 12.”
Coach Tommy Tuberville said Texas Tech’s leadership “would love to keep this thing together with all the other teams that have been with us.”
“I thought we were really on the verge a couple weeks ago of this thing going south but I think there’s a true effort out there by several teams that have a lot to say about this of keeping the Big 12 intact and maybe growing it.”
The trend toward 16-team superconferences picked up steam Sunday when the Atlantic Coast Conference announced it was officially adding Pitt and Syracuse — just years after taking Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College from the Big East.
“College football is as great as it’s ever been,” Brown said. “But we better keep considering the best interest of the players or at some point they’re going to get so frustrated it won’t be fun for them.”
The NCAA has no authority over conference affiliations, though NCAA President Mark Emmert said Monday that he has been contacting university presidents and conference commissioners. He said he is urging them to consider the well-being of the student-athletes.
Emmert also said talk of having four or five superconferences is nothing more than conjecture.