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Superconferences Still On Hold As Pac-12 Stays Put

Ralph D. Russo, Jeff Latzke & Pat Eaton-Robb
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NEW YORK (AP) — The seismic shift in college athletics has once again been diverted.

Unless there is a major surprise looming, the latest round of conference realignment will only produce a handful of changes. The 16-team superconference is again on hold.

The Pac-12 presidents and chancellors decided late Tuesday night not to expand, leaving Texas and Oklahoma to figure out a way to get along in the Big 12.

“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,” Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “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.”

Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech were considering a move from the Big 12 to the Pac-12 – a move that could have killed the Big 12. After expanding from the Pac-10 with new members Utah and Colorado last year, members of the new Pac-12 decided not to stretch the league farther east.

“We were not surprised by the Pac 12’s decision to not expand at this time,” Oklahoma President David Boren said. “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.

“Conference stability has been our first goal and we look forward to achieving that goal through continued membership in the Big 12 Conference.”

Meanwhile, across the country in New York, Big East Commissioner John Marinatto emerged from a three-hour meeting with officials from the league’s football schools to say his members “pledged to each other that they are committed to move forward together.”

The Big East also has been staring at an uncertain future after Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced last weekend they are moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But now it appears the Big East, like the Big 12, stands a good chance to survive, too – for now.

Marinatto said all the league’s members – including Notre Dame and the seven other non-football members – are committed to aggressively recruiting replacements for Syracuse and Pittsburgh, though he would not indicate which schools are candidates.

He said the league will enforce the 27-month notice agreement in its bylaws and not allow Syracuse and Pitt to leave until the 2014-15 academic year.

He also said he expects TCU to join the league in 2012 as previously agreed upon.

As for the Big 12, the board of regents at Texas and Oklahoma voted Monday to give their presidents the right to choose a new conference.

Oklahoma State was going to follow Oklahoma’s lead and Texas Tech planned to do the same with Texas.

Texas and Oklahoma were not acting together. Texas officials had stated several times it wanted to keep the Big 12 alive.

Oklahoma officials said they were looking for stability and equal revenue sharing, which does not occur in the Big 12. Texas has its own cable television network and gets the biggest cut of the Big 12’s revenue.

The Pac-12 has equal revenue distribution and would not change that for Texas. Without Texas in the deal, the Pac-12’s leaders didn’t have quite the appetite for expansion.

The Sooners and Longhorns, bitter rivals on the field, now need to work out some differences off it.

A person familiar with the schools’ discussions said Texas and Oklahoma officials are expected to meet in the next few days to negotiate an agreement to keep the universities in the league for at least the next five years. The person requested anonymity because the meeting had not been announced.

Whether other schools would be invited to join that meeting was unclear Tuesday night.

Scott tried to bring Oklahoma and Texas into his conference last summer, but his bid to create a superconference called the Pac-16 fell short when Texas decided to stay in the Big 12, in part to start its own network.

Nebraska and Colorado did leave the Big 12, but Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe managed to keep the conference together.

When the Longhorn Network became a reality, Texas A&M had had enough.

A&M, which flirted with the Southeastern Conference last year, reached out to the SEC and ended up being invited to join that league earlier this month. That deal has not yet been finalized because some Big 12 members, such as Baylor and Iowa State, have not waived the right to possibly sue Texas A&M and the SEC.

But if the Big 12 and its new 13-year, $1 billion television deal reached with Fox Sports in April survives, the exit should be clear for Texas A&M. And the rest of the Big 12 can go back to looking for a replacement.

Maybe newly independent in football BYU?

After the Pac-10 grew by two, adding Colorado and Utah from the Mountain West, the league negotiated a landmark 12-year television contract with Fox and ESPN worth about $3 billion, allowing the conference to quadruple its media rights fees and start its own network.

“We have a very good situation and a bright future,” Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby said.

It’s hard to say for sure if this will put an end to conference realignment for a while. Many thought after last summer’s maneuvering, things would settle down – and that barely lasted a year.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford has said his league is comfortable with 14 members, which it will have when Pitt and Syracuse join, but is not “philosophically” opposed to expanding to 16.

Despite their latest pledge to work together, the Big East still seems susceptible to another raid by the ACC or maybe the SEC.

Adding UConn and possibly Rutgers, located in New Jersey, would allow the ACC to further extend its reach into the Northeast and the New York City television market.

The SEC will be up to 13 schools when Texas A&M’s move becomes official and even though it has said it can stay at the number, it seems logical to go to 14.

West Virginia and Missouri have both been speculated to be candidates and there were reports earlier Tuesday that the SEC and Missouri had a tentative agreement.

The SEC shot that down.

“The Southeastern Conference has not agreed formally or informally to accept any institution other than Texas A&M, and there have not been conference discussions regarding changes in divisional alignments,” SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom said.

With Texas and Oklahoma still around, there might not be a reason for Missouri to relocate.

Despite all the angst that realignment has caused many in major college athletics over the past month, sweeping change has seemingly been avoided.

Copyright Associated Press

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