Big 12 at a Crossroads

At this point, I think the guys on Capitol Hill are getting along less acrimoniously than the members of the Big 12. Even the one seemingly guaranteed movement (A&M to the SEC) has come under doubt as rumors are swirling that Baylor is threatening legal action against the SEC if they admit A&M to the conference.

This moves comes just a day after the SEC unanimously decided to conditionally allow A&M as their 13th member, but that condition is an important one. The conference said that all remaining nine members of the Big 12 would have to cede any legal right to sue.

Last week, Dan Beebe, commissioner of the Big 12, sent a letter to SEC honcho Mike Silve stating that all teams were on board with the decision. Then news came out late Tuesday night that Baylor had contacted the SEC with a threat of legal recourse if they took A&M, and now the whole thing is in limbo.

Besides that, OU has stated that they are actively pursuing all of their options, most prominently a move to the Pac-12, and that Ok. State might join them. OU’s head coach Bob Stoops has even said that if Texas and OU aren’t in the same conference, then he would be all right with not continuing the rivalry. Which is, of course, madness, in this writer’s opinion.

Then there is the question of just what is going on with Texas. For all intents and purposes, Texas benefits the most by keeping the Big 12 intact, and that means keeping Oklahoma off the West coast. If Texas were to go to the Pac-12, they would most likely have to scrap the Longhorn Network. That was the tie-up last summer when the Pac-12 was courting members of the Big 12, and they’re even less likely to acquiesce on the point this time around.

For one, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has said that they will not be active in grabbing members from another conference. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t in contact with OU, they just won’t give them an invite unless the Big 12 disbands. The odds of Texas going to the Pac-12 seems low, around 20 percent as of last Sunday, according to Chip Brown, because they are looking at ways to keep the LHN.

However, if they were to give up the LHN, or have it absorbed into the Pac-12’s new conference channel as a regional branch, it would seem awfully strange that the thing that led A&M to seek a new home would be liquidated so quickly.

The other option is to go independent similar to Notre Dame. It would be great for football, but, and this might be a shocker to some Longhorns, there are other 17 other Division I UT teams. If there’s no Big 12, and there wouldn’t be if Texas left, then where do these other teams play? The Mountain West Conference? That’s hardly equitable. Besides, UT Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds has said he wouldn’t go independent because he wants a conference for his teams.

The Big 12 is quickly unraveling. Perhaps what is most interesting is that Texas, for all its power, may have to be a reactive to what happens over the next few days and weeks. Frankly, if they do manage to salvage the Big 12, it’ll be like slapping a band-aid on a leaky fishing boat. There’s nothing to guarantee this scenario won’t play out next year, or the year after.

Simply put, too many people already have one foot out the door, or at least a hand on the doorknob. If Baylor successfully keeps A&M from leaving, what’s to keep OU or Ok. State from going west? Or maybe Baylor will sue to keep them too. The Big 12’s reputation seems to be shot, and in these kind of business negotiations, which these are, the weaker party rarely comes away with what they want.

Where Texas ends up largely depends on how much they are willing to negotiate on their LHN deal, with whatever conference is courting them, or whether they want to go independent and open up a whole can of worms for the other athletic teams on campus. There really isn’t a third option, not for the long term, no matter how badly Texas might want there to be one.

 

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