Stillwater News Press

September 21, 2011

University of Oklahoma President David Boren says he isn't surprised by Pac-12 announcement

By John Shinn
CNHI News Service

NORMAN, Okla. — If Oklahoma wants to jump from the Big 12 Conference, it may have lost its preferred landing spot. The Pac-12 Conference presidents and chancellors voted Tuesday to remain a 12-team league.

“After careful review we have determined that it is in the best interests of our member institutions, student-athletes and fans to remain a 12-team conference,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement released at 10 p.m. Tuesday. “While we have great respect for all of the institutions that have contacted us, and certain expansion proposals were financially attractive, we have a strong conference structure and culture of equality that we are committed to preserve.

“With new landmark TV agreements and plans to launch our innovative television networks, we are going to focus solely on these great assets, our strong heritage and the bright future in front of us.”

On Monday in Tulsa, the OU Board of Regents voted to give school president David Boren the power to change conferences. There had been widespread speculation that OU would apply for membership in the Pac-12 by the end of the week.

Boren said in statement Tuesday night that OU hasn’t applied for membership in the Pac-12 and wasn’t surprised by the Pac-12’s decision to stay as a 12-team league. He also said OU is willing to try to hammer out an agreement to stay in the Big 12

“Even though we had decided not to apply for membership this year, we have developed a positive relationship with the leadership of the conference and we have kept them informed of the progress we’ve been making to gain agreement from the Big 12 for changes, which will make the conference more stable in the future,” Boren said. “Conference stability has been our first goal and we look forward to achieving that goal through continued membership in the Big 12 Conference.”

Citing an anonymous source, The Oklahoman reported Tuesday afternoon that OU was only willing to stay in the Big 12 on the condition that conference commissioner Dan Beebe was removed and Texas’ Longhorn Network was shackled.

Beebe has been seen as a reason Nebraska and Colorado left the Big 12 last year and Texas A&M’s decision to leave for the Southeastern Conference also has been widely viewed as defections Beebe could have prevented. Texas’ cable network and the Big 12’s inability to put restraints on it has been a source of contention throughout the conference.

The 2011 version of conference realignment kicked into high gear when Texas A&M announced it was leaving the Big 12 for the SEC in August. Its biggest source of contention was the Longhorn Network’s initial proposal to air Texas high school football games.

The entire conference voted to nix that, but the network — which is part of a 20-year, $300 million deal between ESPN and Texas — has still been allowed to show highlights from high school games. It has remained a sore spot with the rest of the schools in the conference.

“We’re for a level playing field. We want to see a conference in which all the members play an equal role,” Boren said. “Whatever conference we join, or whatever conference we stay in — those are obviously the two major options — the University of Oklahoma has no ambition to dominate any conference.

“We simply have the ambition of being a member, an equal member, of any conference, playing by the same rules, by having a level playing field for all the members of that conference and developing a high level of trust in each other. That’s our goal. That’s what we’re after.”

Those were the same things the heads of Colorado and Nebraska said after the Huskers jumped to the Big Ten last summer and the Buffaloes moved to the Pac-12. OU is one of the schools with enough prestige to shift conferences. The SEC made overtures to OU last summer, but those were rejected. Several sources have told The Transcript that OU preferred the Pac-12 over the SEC.

But it appears Tuesday that OU is willing to try to hammer out an agreement to remain in the Big 12.

John Shinn writes for The Norman Transcript.