Over the past dozen years, Oklahoma and Texas have teamed up to turn the Big 12 into one of the nation’s foremost college conferences, winning two national championships and playing for the title a half dozen times.
And now, the league’s fate rests squarely in their hands. Will they stay together and find a way to make the Big 12 viable into the future? Will they leave together and take their riches west to the burgeoning Pac-12? Or will they part ways, potentially bringing down the league and ending one of the sport’s most colorful and storied rivalries?
Each school’s board of regents took action Monday to empower the university presidents _ David Boren at Oklahoma and Bill Powers at Texas _ to choose a new conference home. Yet neither is saying goodbye to the Big 12, or the other, just yet.
Boren said his focus is solely on either stabilizing the Big 12 through an equal revenue-sharing plan or taking Oklahoma to the Pac-12. Powers wouldn’t divulge Texas’ options, saying only that the process is “ongoing.”
“We’re almost like a family. Sometimes we don’t see things exactly the same way,” Boren said. “But while we like being rivals, we also like to work together when it’s appropriate and we’re continuing to have conversations with our friends at the University of Texas.
“And I think we’re always stronger when Texas and Oklahoma move together, just as we’re stronger when Oklahoma State and Oklahoma work together.”
Boren said he has been in daily contact with Burns Hargis, his counterpart at Oklahoma State, and the in-state Bedlam rivals won’t be separated. Oklahoma State’s regents have called a special meeting on realignment Wednesday.
“Whatever we do, we’re going to do it together and I think that’s very good news for the state of Oklahoma,” Boren said.
It’s not so simple with Texas, which has been playing Oklahoma regularly for over a century _ long before the two became conference partners in the mid-1990s.
“We have different perspectives,” Boren said. “I would put it this way: We’re listening with respect to each other at this point in time, but it’s too early to tell whether we’ll make a common decision or not.”
The Pac-12 already snapped up Colorado from the Big 12 last summer, and it flirted with adding Texas and Oklahoma as part of a package deal that would have created a 16-team superconference stretching from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast.
But the Longhorns and Sooners stayed put, committing to stay with eight other members in a smaller Big 12. The league then hammered out a $1.2 billion television contract, but it wasn’t enough to keep everyone happy.
They decided not to create a conference network similar to the ones in place by the Big Ten and Pac-12, not to split revenue equally and not to create any barriers to Texas’ creation of the Longhorn Network through a 20-year, $300 million agreement with ESPN that proved to be divisive.
Texas A&M announced last month that it would seek membership in the Southeastern Conference and was accepted into the league with the condition that it must resolve legal issues first _ namely, the threat of lawsuits from Baylor and other Big 12 schools.
Now, the league is in a state of disarray again.