The collegiate World As We Know It is sitting, figuratively, on the San Andreas Fault, with the Pac-12 somewhere near the epicenter of the next rumbling of the landscape.
As I figure it, the future of the Pac-12 depends on which path the league presidents choose: (1) The old, conservative, we’re-above-that-sort-of-thing approach; or (2) the new, hip, cutting-edge, not-your-father’s-conference-anymore route.
More on that in a minute. For now, what we know is that Texas A&M is headed at some point to become the SEC’s 13th program, and nobody stops at a 13-team league, if for no other reason than the prospect of bad luck.
Tuesday, the Austin Statesman-American reported that a meeting of Texas and Oklahoma officials found the Sooners doing everything but calling their landlord and giving notice for leaving the Big 12.
The newspaper quoted a source as saying that the Oklahoma board of regents had instructed OU president David Boren to prepare a formal letter of application for admission to the Pac-12. The meeting of the Sooners and Longhorns had been set up to discuss ways to try to sustain the Big 12, but the paper portrays Oklahoma as being hell-bent to bolt for the Pac-12. It’s assumed Oklahoma State would follow.
So the question is: Does the Pac-12 want the Oklahomas?
Larry Scott, the commissioner, has been saying the Pac-12 doesn’t want to expand, but I think that’s largely posturing — a statement that the league isn’t out to poach the best available free-agent franchises.
If Oklahoma comes calling, which seems likely, that’s another story. Then, the Pac-12 will have to decide how acquisitive it wants to be. That’s where the presidents come in.
Jon Wilner reported recently in the San Jose Mercury-News that there’s at least some opposition to more expansion by the league presidents. Makes sense; under Scott’s aggressive leadership, the league has landed lucrative new over-the-air TV contracts and will launch its new networks in a year. Some presidents believe they’ve accomplished what they set out to do.
Moreover, there’s some of the old-guard thinking of Pac-10 days. There’s some presidential feeling that academically, more expansion will taint the league’s overall mission, and that some of the candidates to come west aren’t of the same ilk. Would the presidents be comfortable rubbing elbows, for instance, with Boren? He took such umbrage at the infamous officiating gaffe in the Sooners’ football game at Oregon a few years ago that he wrote to the Big 12 commissioner, calling it an “outrageous injustice” and asked that the result be stricken from the record books.
In a perfect world, I don’t think the Pac-12 wants Oklahoma, and that speaks to Scott’s mission statement. But it’s not a perfect world, and if the league doesn’t act, and the Big Ten or SEC has all the hotels on Pacific Avenue in this Monopoly game, the Pac-12 will be powerless. If the future means needing 16-team conferences to command TV dollars, and Oklahoma is snapped up elsewhere, the Pac-12 will have precious few places to turn. If it gets to 14 teams with Oklahoma, it’s got a beachhead (although I don’t think there are many beaches in Oklahoma). If it needs to go to 16 from there, at least it has a property of some value in the name recognition of Oklahoma.
Side note: How do you suppose Colorado is feeling about all this? It took pains to get out of the Big 12, and it may be about to welcome some of those Heartlanders back in the door. And all that talk about how it was so important to the Buffs to be placed in the Pac-12 South to connect with alums in southern California? Colorado could very easily find itself in an eastern division of an expanded league, feeling disenfranchised again from LA.
My guess is Scott would find a way to assuage feelings like Colorado’s, and in the bigger picture, would persuade the presidents that he has to act boldly. After all, he was the one who moved mountains in getting a $3-billion, 12-year combined deal with ESPN and Fox. He’s built capital with the presidents, and as much as they want the league to have a prestigious academic face, they probably want even more to avoid the athletic poorhouse sometime down the road.
Of course, Texas is still the girl everybody wants to date, and that includes the Pac-12. But reports say the ACC has reached out to Texas.
As incongruous as that sounds, whichever league gives the Longhorns the most concessions regarding their TV network might be the one that lands them.
Personally, I can’t wrap my arms around Texas and the ACC together. But then, I never thought I’d see the Sooner Schooner in Corvallis, either.