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September 2, 2011

The plot thickens to try to hold Big 12 together

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe convened a conference call late Friday afternoon with a handful of his conference's presidents to discuss the increasing possibility that Oklahoma wants to bolt the Big 12 for the Pac-12, multiple sources said.

Texas president Bill Powers, Oklahoma president David Boren and Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin were excluded from the call, sources said. But Beebe advised the other presidents in the Big 12 to "work on Texas" to get the Longhorns to stay in the Big 12, sources said.

It's Beebe's belief that if Texas refuses to go to the Pac-12 that Oklahoma would not get a bid from the Pac-12, sources said. But another source close to the situation said if Oklahoma and Oklahoma State indicated to the Pac-12 that they wanted to be a part of that league, they would be admitted.

Beebe released a statement to Orangebloods.com Friday night that said, "We continue to work hard for the long-term stability of the Big 12 Conference."

Boren dropped a bombshell on Friday when he said no one has been more active than the Sooners in surveying their options for the future and that OU would be no wallflower.

"At this point in time, I'll be very honest with you in saying I do not know with certainty, or perhaps even can't hazard a totally intelligent guess as to what our final decision will be," Boren told reporters. "But we are carefully looking over all the options. We are … there's no school more active in the Big 12 more active than we are right now."

Sources said the Longhorns have been actively working to hold the Big 12 together. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and OU athletic director Joe Castiglione are on the five-member Big 12 expansion committee charged with looking for new members to join the Big 12. But if Oklahoma bolts, Texas would consider the Big 12 dead and probably follow the Sooners to the Pac-12.

When I texted a key source close to Texas Friday night if the Longhorns were preparing to head to the Pac-12 with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, the source texted back, "Leaning that way." The source later said there was a "50 to 60 percent" chance those schools would end up in the Pac-12.

Any move by Texas to the Pac-12 would not be an easy one. First, there is the issue of the Longhorn Network. No schools in the Pac-12 are allowed to have their own network. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has set up a series of regional networks that partner two schools together to share revenue from third-tier rights with each other and with the Pac-12.

So Texas' Longhorn Network, which launched on Aug. 26 and still can't even be seen by most of the Lone Star State, would likely have to be turned into one of the Pac-12's regional networks (and most likely partner with Texas Tech).

And that could mean Texas basically tearing up the 20-year, $300 million deal it just inked with ESPN and giving up its riches.

An industry source with direct knowledge of the Longhorn Network said turning LHN into a regional network in the Pac-12 would be "very difficult." When I asked if it was impossible, the source said, "After last year, I don't subscribe to that word anymore."

That source doubted Texas was going anywhere. That source also doubted that Oklahoma would go anywhere without Texas.

Sources said Texas officials told them last year the Longhorns were reluctant to go to the Pac-12 because they would lose a lot of the power they enjoy in the Big 12. The sources said Texas feared being out-voted and muscled in the Pac-12 by the power brokers in that conference - the original Pac-8 (USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State).

But Texas' move to the Pac-12 would also be difficult because of the legislative heat the Longhorns would likely face. Legislative sources said Friday night that part of the reason Texas A&M was allowed to withdraw from the Big 12 was because of assurances from the rest of the Big 12 that the league would survive.

Now that it appears the Big 12 is in serious jeopardy, lawmakers will not be so passive, sources said.

Two Big 12 sources said if Oklahoma and Texas are preparing to lead a charge to the Pac-12 there would almost certainly be a tortious interference lawsuit filed against the Southeastern Conference. That's if Texas A&M indeed submits its application for membership to the SEC next Tuesday or Wednesday as expected, according to sources.

"Texas A&M leaving has started this whole thing," one source said. "There is a big-time lawsuit here."

The potential of such legal action and the real possibility the Big 12 could collapse prompted another Big 12 source to wonder if the SEC would now hesitate to accept Texas A&M, considering the fallout that could befall the Big 12.

Messages left with officials from Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech as well as Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott were not returned Friday night.

Stay tuned.



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