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Oklahoma, Texas regents clear path for more conference realignment

Monday, September 19, 2011 | 8:05 p.m. CDT; updated 1:04 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Standing near his portrait, University of Oklahoma president David Boren is surrounded by reporters and cameras on Monday after regents at the university gave Boren the authority to move the Sooners out of the Big 12 to a different conference if he decides it is in the best interest of the school.

Texas and Oklahoma cleared the way Monday for their departures from the Big 12 Conference, with regents at both powerhouse schools giving their presidents the authority to find a new home.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren said he is focused on either keeping the Sooners in the Big 12 or moving to the Pac-12. And while he said it is not inevitable that Oklahoma will leave, he said the league must share television revenue equally among its members for the Sooners to stay.

"Our goal is to be an equal partner in any network, and we think it ought to be the goal of every other member of any conference that we're a part of to be an equal member of that conference," Boren said. "We all ought to value each other — every single member of that conference — and none of us should seek to play a stronger leadership role than anyone else."

University of Texas regents gave President Bill Powers the authority to negotiate a move out of the Big 12 to a new conference, with any decision requiring their final approval.

Powers made no mention of other conferences. After the vote, Powers said only that the process is "ongoing" and left without further comment.

Oklahoma State's regents have called a special meeting on the topic for Wednesday and Texas A&M has already said it plans to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference by July if legal issues can be addressed.

If Oklahoma leaves, so will Oklahoma State, Boren said. He said he has been talking with Oklahoma State officials and he expects the in-state rivals to stick together.

"Oklahoma State has attractive options and we are working with our colleagues at the University of Oklahoma to make sure the best interests of both institutions and our state are achieved," Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis added. "We will be prepared at the appropriate time to take whatever steps are necessary for Oklahoma State."

This past weekend, Baylor and Iowa State reportedly reached out to the Big East as a contingency plan if the Big 12 falls apart. Syracuse and Pittsburgh left the Big East to join the ACC over the weekend, and the Associated Press reported Monday that the Big East and the Big 12 are discussing a merger of the two conferences.

 

Meanwhile, Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State have yet to definitively comment on their futures.

Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden said before Saturday’s football game that as of then, he and MU Chancellor Brady Deaton, who is also the chair of the Big 12 board of directors, were still committed to the Big 12.

“Brady is our chair of the Big 12, and he’s going to continue to do everything he can to keep the Big 12 together,” Alden said. “I understand there’s a lot of things going on out there, but that’s his primary focus, is to do what he thinks he can to keep that together.”

The latest round of conference realignment started Aug. 31, when Texas A&M informed the Big 12 it would leave the conference, and the SEC voted to accept the school a week later. However, many of the remaining Big 12 schools refused to waive their legal right to sue Texas A&M or the SEC, so the move has not gone through.

Oklahoma and Texas both flirted with leaving the Big 12 last year, but decided to stay. The league put together a $1.2 billion television contract to split among 10 teams but decided not to create a conference network similar to the ones in place by the Big Ten and Pac-12.

The Big 12 does not have equal revenue sharing like other power conferences, and members bristled after Texas inked a 20-year, $300 million agreement with ESPN to create the Longhorn Network.

Several influential Baylor alumni and University of Texas benefactor B.J. "Red" McCombs took out full-page ads in Texas newspapers over the weekend suggesting the Big 12 is "a conference not only worth fighting for, it's worth waging peace for." Baylor even commissioned a poll on the topic, with its marketing department saying it provided reasons for the league to stick together.

Texas officials have said they want the Big 12 to hold together but would keep "all options" open for the university, including reported discussions with the Pac-12 and ACC.

But Texas has little appetite for a Big 12 without rival Oklahoma or Texas A&M.

"Last time everybody talked about where everybody was going, we ended up staying in the same place," Longhorns coach Mack Brown said Monday. "So my thoughts have always been the same: I think the University of Texas wants to stay in the Big 12."

Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville said Texas Tech's leadership "would love to keep this thing together with all the other teams that have been with us."

"I thought we were really on the verge a couple weeks ago of this thing going south but I think there's a true effort out there by several teams that have a lot to say about this of keeping the Big 12 intact and maybe growing it," Tuberville said.

The NCAA has no authority over conference affiliations, though NCAA President Mark Emmert said Monday that he has been contacting university presidents and conference commissioners. He said he is urging them to consider the well-being of the student-athletes.

Emmert also said talk of having four or five superconferences is nothing more than conjecture.

Texas lawmakers are watching the situation but are unlikely to interfere, said state Rep. Dan Branch, the Republican chairman of House Higher Education Committee.

Branch said he has told Texas regents and administrators he would like the state's major universities to be rooted in a conference in the middle of the country — not one that is "Los Angeles- or Atlantic-centric."

"I hope they will also take into consideration the greater good for Texans," Branch said. However, he said, "I understand in this new world, we've got to allow those regents and presidents to make those decisions."

Harry Plumer, Andrew Wagaman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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