Not so fast, Big 12 powers

Don't mess with … Pullman?

These are fascinating days for purveyors of dark comedy and comeuppance.


Last year, Texas wrecked what was then the Pac-10 Conference's plan to expand to 16 teams when the Longhorns reneged in the 11th hour.

Tuesday night, as college football stood at the precipice of upheaval, the West told Texas, "go east."


It is simplistic to suggest Pac-12 presidents acted heroically when they rebuffed Texas and Oklahoma and their two political appendages.

"If the Pac-12 was able to structure terms that were favorable terms for the membership, they would have done it," Western Athletic Conference Commissioner Karl Benson observed Wednesday.

That the decision turned out to be good for college football was a residual benefit.

There were scenarios in which the league would have expanded to 16 and other conferences may have crumbled, but it's OK to think Pac-12 university presidents were also magnanimous.


To be clear: Commissioner Larry Scott did meet with Texas and Oklahoma. A deal could have been done if not for some audacious behavior by the two schools.

The message, as one Bowl Championship Series executive familiar with the situation relayed it this week, was "Texas cannot be trusted."

The Pac-12 was willing to consider expansion again, but not on anyone else's terms.

The audacious part was Oklahoma and Texas acting as if it were to them to join the Pac-12, not the other way around.

With the Big 12 reeling after the defections of Nebraska, Colorado and Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Texas used the Pac-12 as a lever in negotiations.

Oklahoma President David Boren, a former U.S. senator, threw down the oratory gauntlet earlier this month when he pronounced the Sooners would not "be a wallflower."

Boren made it sound as if his school had an open invitation to the Pac-12. And, of course, Oklahoma State was welcomed to tag along. Boren told the Oklahoman newspaper only days ago that the Pac-12 was his school's "sole focus."

If only he had booked a reservation.

Texas also erred in thinking just being Texas trumped everything.

Scott met with Texas to see whether something special could be carved out. But there was a huge problem — the Longhorn Network. Texas, in conjunction with ESPN, launched its own network this year. It was controversial from the start and ultimately drove Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference.

Texas Inc. thought it could transfer operations to its Pacific branch. However, the Pac-12 had just made equal revenue sharing a cornerstone of its new $3 billion network deal.

Many in the conference were appalled to read details of Texas' Pac-12 entry application in Sunday's Austin American-Statesman. The newspaper suggested a way Texas could join the Pac-12 while retaining the revenue from the Longhorn Network. The story had the financial breakdown and even the 16-team pod system that would make it all work.

The reaction out west: When Bevo flies.

Last year's push toward a super 16 conference was rubber-stamped because Scott wanted the strongest package he could muster as he entered television negotiations.

By adding just two teams, though, the Pac-12 secured the most lucrative contract in college football. University presidents were thrilled beyond words.

So why did they need to go to 16 teams now?

Taking in Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech would have required swallowing hard on academics.

Texas is the only one of the four that is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU) but also the school that presented the Pac-12 the most headaches.

Not expanding allows the Pac-12 to take credit for slowing the frenetic and cannibalistic pace of expansion. Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim this week said, "If conference commissioners were the founding fathers of this country, we would have Guatemala, Uruguay and Argentina in the United States."

Maybe the backlash had some immediate impact on some presidents. And maybe it's only temporary.

"I don't expect this is going to be the end in terms of realignment," Benson said.

So celebrate this walk back from the ledge.

Enjoy this relative expansion calm — for the week or two that it lasts.

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