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September 5, 2011

Armageddon in college realignment looming?

Complete Armageddon in college realignment could be days if not hours away.

Multiple sources said if Oklahoma makes a move to the Pac-12, most likely with Oklahoma State in tow, there will be no more back alley conversations or worries about tortious interference lawsuits among conferences. It will be a free for all.

Looting in the streets style taking and worrying about consequences later.

Several sources said the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big East and Pac-12 are reaching out to schools in the Big 12 in anticipation that the league is about to come apart like an Alka Seltzer tablet in boiling water.

And if Oklahoma darts for the Pac-12, the Big 12 would essentially be done, according to multiple sources across the Big 12.

According to a source close to the situation, OU president David Boren was supposed to meet with Texas president Bill Powers on Monday in what could become a turning point for the Big 12 - for better or worse.

The Big 12 officially went on life support on Friday when Boren said no one is being more active than the Sooners in looking at their future and weighing their conference options.

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe then summoned a conference call with presidents from the league excluding OU, Texas and Texas A&M with the charge to "work on Texas" in hopes UT would stay in the Big 12 and possibly influence Oklahoma to stay as well, sources said.

But the Big 12 took another body blow on Saturday when Oklahoma State billionaire booster Boone Pickens told reporters he thought OSU would be in the Pac-12 and didn't think the Big 12 would be around in five years.

It appeared at that point like momentum was gathering for Texas to also head west in a reunion with Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, one year after Scott attempted to entice half the Big 12 to join his league.

A source close to Texas put the chances of UT going to the Pac-12 at "50 to 60 percent" on Friday night and had those odds increasing as of Saturday. But on Sunday, those percentages dropped to "20 percent," according to the source, because Texas wanted to explore ways to hold onto the Longhorn Network.

Texas would have to give up LHN if it went to the Pac-12, which has equal revenue sharing and pools its third-tier TV rights in a series of regional networks.

The $300 million, 20-year contract Texas signed with ESPN has become important to UT's board of regents, sources said, because in an age of higher education cutbacks, UT athletics is contributing $5 million per year to academics in the first five years of the deal.

If Texas went to the Pac-12, LHN would have to be re-worked so that Texas would share revenue with a partner in a regional network (possibly Texas Tech) as well as the Pac-12, forcing the Longhorns to give up much of their unique branding and riches.

Holding the Big 12 together, no matter how dysfunctional, is still UT's top priority, sources said. Even football coach Mack Brown weighed in on Monday, saying he wants players' parents and Texas high school coaches to be able to see their players in Big 12 games played all over the state of Texas.

But if the Big 12 comes apart, another way for Texas to hold onto LHN may be joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, two sources close to the situation said Monday. ESPN holds the TV rights in the ACC and also owns and operates LHN.

But the ACC would only come into play if Oklahoma left for the Pac-12 and the Big 12 busted up, sources said.

One source close to the situation said the ACC, which is trying to fend off a potential raid by the Southeastern Conference (Virginia Tech continues to be mentioned by sources as an SEC target), would possibly look to add Texas, Syracuse, Connecticut and Rutgers to grow to 16.

Sources say Missouri has received feelers from the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 and Big East. Kansas has also received feelers from the Pac-12 and Big East, sources said. Kansas State has also received feelers from the Big East, sources said.

"It's getting messy," said a Big 12 athletic director.

The other option for Texas in holding onto LHN would be to go independent. But while independence is good for football and may present UT with the greatest financial gain, it would be a scheduling headache for Texas' other sports.

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds has said Texas would not go independent on his watch because he wants a conference home for UT's other sports. But he probably didn't anticipate the Big 12 possibly dissolving one year after the league came back together and landed a $1.17 billion, 13-year TV deal with Fox in April.

"For the Big 12 to survive at this point, there would need to be a new commissioner and probably a $100 million penalty for leaving the conference written by the best lawyers in the country into an iron-clad contract," said a high-ranking source at a Big 12 school.

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe stood by a statement released Friday when contacted by Orangebloods.com on Monday.

"We continue to work hard for the long-term stability of the Big 12 Conference," Beebe said.

Beebe has been left in a precarious position because two of the five schools on the Big 12 expansion committee charged with finding a replacement(s) for Texas A&M are the ones now publicly questioning the future of their own conference (OU and Oklahoma State).

While it appeared there might be momentum for the Big 12 to attract schools such as Pittsburgh, Louisville and/or BYU as of a week ago, schools in the Big 12 are now busy trying to find a safe landing spot for themselves with Oklahoma possibly on the verge of bolting.

Industry sources said Beebe had not contacted ESPN or Fox, the Big 12's television partners, for guidance or suggestions as Beebe did last summer in helping to secure financial reassurances from those partners to save the league.

But those who defend Beebe would argue that this round of realignment - one year later - is not about money. It's about personalities, ego and, ultimately, seeking stability.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M sources continue to tell Orangebloods.com that the Aggies expect movement in their bid to join the Southeastern Conference on Tuesday or Wednesday.

In college realignment, the rules of the game are to expect the unexpected.

"There are so many moving pieces right now, everything can change in an hour," said one Big 12 administrator Monday afternoon. "But it's total chaos right now."

Stay tuned.



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