Oklahoma, the conference, and the media

As I’ve said before, I don’t have any inside sources at OU feeding me information on the conference alignment situation, but I have (by necessity) become a reasonably acute media watcher. If you’ve done the same, you’ve known since the “story” of OU moving to the Pac-12 first broke on September 1 exactly who was driving it, and how those drivers lost control of it at the end. Let’s explore the details after the jump (warning: long and extensively sourced).

The first article I saw on the “imminent” departure of OU for the Pac-12 came to my attention through NBC Sports’ College Football Talk blog, a decent source if a bit credulous of rumors about big stories. Let’s try an extended quote of that piece from September 1 and see if you see the major points.

On the same day a new season is officially upon us, and just a day after Texas A&M made its biggest jump yet in the latest game of conference leapfrog, the demise of the Big 12-ish is — again — reportedly upon us.

In a piece he penned for the Austin American-Statesman titled “One more move and Big 12 is over”, venerable columnist Kirk Bohls puts the onus for the survival of the conferences squarely on the shoulders of the Oklahoma Sooners. And presumably, based on those he’s spoken to, the Norman school is ready to put its current conference out of its misery and head west.

Should Oklahoma act upon its earnest desires and seek an invitation to join the Pacific-12 Conference — something I’m fully expecting to happen within days, if not hours — that decision could well be the killing blow to the Big 12 while also providing Texas the political cover to follow suit and ask for admission as well.

“Oklahoma owns all the cards,” a Big 12 source added.

But wait. There’s more says television infomercial guy. Bohls continues painting a landscape-shifting picture of Texas privately hoping that their Red River rivals make the first in a series of moves — thus ensuring that “the Longhorns’ hands would be politically clean” — in what would result in, “probably before the calendar turns to October… [y]our new Pac-16 members: Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.”

That set a pattern that nearly every article in the following two weeks would repeat:

  1. “Sources close to” the school, the conference, whatever, always came from a writer based in Austin, or from an outlet devoted to Texas sports (like OrangeBloods.com). How likely do you think it is that an actual OU insider would call an Austin paper or blog before an Oklahoma City paper, blog, or TV station?
  2. Unsaid in all but this first article is the plain message that Texas wanted this to happen. OU moving to the Pac-12 would “provide Texas the political cover to follow suit” and leave “the Longhorns’ hands … politically clean.” Any doubts now about the sourcing?

Further evidence of this pattern:

OrangeBloods.com’s Chip Brown reports this morning that Oklahoma will look to apply for Pac-12 membership by the end of this month, a source close to the school’s administration has said. (source)

With these stories coming from Austin, you get a strong idea that Texas wants to go to the Pac-12, but thinks it can’t politically do so after being widely (and accurately) seen as responsible for driving Texas A&M, Nebraska, and maybe Colorado out of the Big 12. By pushing the entire thing onto Oklahoma, Texas gets what it wants and makes Oklahoma look like the bad guy. For instance:

According to the Austin American-Statesman, and prior to the Sooners-Longhorns summit, OU regents have charged president David Boren with the task of preparing a document to formally apply for admission to the Pac-12. While the meeting between the two Big 12 superpowers was described as cordial, it appears it had little impact on OU’s desire to leave the Big 12′s instability in its rear-view mirror.

“There’s nothing Texas could have offered Oklahoma that would have changed their mind. They were set on leaving the Big 12 before Texas got there,” the American-Statesman quotes what it describes as a well-placed source at a Big 12 school.

The Big 12′s done. Oklahoma wasn’t open to creating Big 12 stability.”

Again, sourced in Austin, where the idea of “Big 12 stability” is “give Texas everything it wants and no one gets hurt.” But by September 18, Texas had started to realize that its puppet-master scheme was not proceeding according to plan. Consider this article, obviously sourced to people close to UT:

All rumors have pointed to the Sooners moving on to the Pac-12 with Oklahoma State — although we should let the record show that’s not publicly set in stone yet — but Texas’ future appears more ambiguous.

Not according to Kirk Bohls of the Austin-American Statesman. Speaking — or, tweeting, I should say — on behalf of Bohls today has been the Statesman‘sRandy Riggs, who tweets “On plane at LAX. My guy @kbohls says it’s almost certain #Longhorns are bound for the PAC-12. Stay tuned.”

Riggs goes on to say “And @kbohls adds that the #Longhorns move West should happen sooner rather than later. Could be a wild week… adds PAC-12 and independence are #Longhorns’ only options.”

So what happened? On September 1, the idea of OU leaving the Big 12 left Texas free to pursue all kinds of options. Less than three weeks later, a move by OU suddenly left Texas with two options: move to the Pac-12 on the Pac-12’s terms, or face the ugly prospect of football independence, trying to schedule every game in the 3-4 non-conference slots that every other team has (and I realize this is completely ignoring dozens of other sports that would suffer horribly if UT wound up without a conference).

When you start looking at articles from other sources, the picture becomes clearer. NBC Sports reported this on September 7 from the San Jose Mercury News, strongly suggesting the source was from the Pac-12 and not from Oklahoma or Texas:

Dissecting into comments made by Oklahoma president David Boren, it would appear that the Sooners are seriously considering all options when it comes to their future conference affiliation (i.e., moving to the Pac-12). Since the survival of the Big 12 is dependent on OU and Texas staying put, it would make sense that two would collaborate in some way since Oklahoma had previously gone in the same direction of the Longhorns.

As we noted yesterday, though, that may not be the case.

“Their bond has frayed, [between UT and OU]” a source told the San Jose Mercury News. “Texas overplayed its hand.”

And then yesterday, the obvious denouement, sourced to the Oklahoman:

Citing a high-ranking Big 12 source, the Daily Oklahoman is reporting that Oklahoma is open to remaining as a member of the Big 12 as long as two major conditions are met.

The first condition is the immediate removal of Dan Beebe as commissioner of the Big 12 and the appointing of an interim conference head. Beebe has long been considered by many observers and those associated with the conference as being nothing more than a puppet whose strings are pulled by Texas and Texas alone. As the Oklahoman notes, Beebe’s desire to appease Texas as the best hope for long-term stability in the conference is viewed by many as “the wrong decision” and has paved the way for the current mess the league is facing.

“The perception is, he answers only to one school,” the source told the paper. “That does not work. …

“The best commissioner’s a consensus builder. We need a consensus-builder commissioner. You take the Big Ten, SEC, the Pac-12, their conference office runs circles around our conference in capability, not to mention bias. This commissioner totally cost us Texas A&M.”

And, some believe, Nebraska as well.

The second condition involves, of course, Texas and its beloved Longhorn Network.

The other reform the Sooners demand is Texas and ESPN retreating on some its plans for the Longhorn Network. The UT/ESPN partnership angered Big 12 members on two counts: 1) the network reached an agreement with Fox Sports to move a conference game to the Longhorn Network; and 2) The Longhorn Network announced it would show high school highlights even after the conference voted to keep televised high school games off school-branded networks.

The source said that OU could even push for revenue-sharing of individual networks. Texas is reaping more than $12 million a year from its ESPN contract with the Longhorn Network.

The source also makes a good point in regard to the LHN: UT, if it’s to go west with OU to the Pac-12, would be forced to tweak its network in order to fit into that conference’s regional network model; if that’s the case, why not just remain in the Big 12 with a tweaked LHN as well?

And this gets us to what has obviously (to me) been OU’s position all along:

Oklahoma wants to stay in the Big 12 provided Texas quits using its leverage and control over the commissioner to screw over other schools. If Texas will stay in the Big 12 as an equal member, not one that gets the majority of the revenue and that has a TV network it uses to gain advantage over other conference schools, that’s ideal. If Texas refuses to do this, the conference will explode anyway, and OU would prefer to join the Pac-12 than wait around for Texas to finish the job of ending the Big 12. Given this quote from a few days ago, it seems likely that Texas has had the idea of ending the Big 12 and going to the Pac-12 (with OU, OSU, and Texas Tech [or A&M]) for at least two years.

So this week, Texas finds that it’s no longer pulling puppet strings and making everyone dance to its tune. Beebe has lost the confidence of Oklahoma (and I’m sure other schools), and it’s painfully obvious to all member schools who’s really driving all of this. (The Austin-based leak that only Oklahoma had yet to agree to revised Big 12 revenue sharing providing equal shares for all members is a prime example: OU was considering all options. If OU stays in the Big 12, it should agree to this provision. There’s no need to agree to it before a decision to stay is made. And keep in mind that such revenue sharing excludes the Longhorn Network, because that’s a separate demand by Oklahoma, so Texas would still get more than anyone else. It’s a leak that makes OU look bad and Texas look good, it came from Austin … not hard to figure out.)

It also stands to reason that since the entire “Pac-16” idea was dreamed up by Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott and UT athletics director DeLoss Dodds, that the two of them had some plan to give Texas special treatment, and that the plan was falling apart as both Big 12 and Pac-12 schools realized that Texas being an unequal member is a very bad idea for conference stability. Suddenly the SEC and ACC closed their doors to Texas, and the Big 10 was never interested. That left it “Pac-12 or bust,” and not on Texas’s terms.

Larry Scott had been quite circumspect about the idea of expansion, and you could read this as reluctance to commit to anything in case Texas managed to blow everything up. Now that Texas is no longer in the driver’s seat, the man who thought up the idea of a Pac-16 with DeLoss Dodds has been recommending against proceeding, and last night that became more official:

Thought to be a foregone conclusion that Larry Scott and the Pac-12 would expand to at least the state of Oklahoma, it appears that the Pac-12 will not expand any further, multiple news sources are reporting.

The reasons behind the move (or, lack thereof) are still being divulged, but it’s entirely possible that Texas andOklahoma “overplayed their hand”. Over the weekend, we noted that Texas could end up in what would be the Pac-16, but that the Longhorn Network would be a hurdle over which the two parties would have to compromise.

Apparently, that couldn’t be done.

Meanwhile, a source told the Daily Oklahoman earlier today that the Sooners would contemplate staying in the Big 12 provided two conditions were met: that commissioner Dan Beebe was relieved of his duties, and that Texas cool its jets on some of the Longhorn Network programming.

Setting demands probably didn’t tickle the Pac-12′s fancy a whole bunch.

Scott offered this statement following the decision:

“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. 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.”

Better late than never, Scott realized his co-dreamer wasn’t negotiating in good faith. That link “Apparently, that couldn’t be done” is to a tweet from New York Times sportswriter Pete Thamel:

Pac-12 decision came down Scott meeting with Texas and realizing there was no way the conference could be one of equals. So they passed.

Not going to happen. They might fool Dan Beebe multiple times, but everyone else has Dodds’ number. I think it’s safe to assume the Pac-12 didn’t want to expand to 14 schools, because 16 gives a much better shot at even scheduling by breaking into four divisions (or “pods”), such that each team plays the other three in its “pod” every year, plus two teams from each of the other three pods, for a total of nine conference games, plus a rotating four-year schedule in which every team plays every other team once at home and once on the road. You can’t do that evenly with 14 teams in two divisions of seven teams each. And again, this says nothing about all the other sports, where every team plays every other team every year.

If the Pac-12 voted against expansion because Texas would not play equally with everyone else, Texas may think that leaves them back in the driver’s seat: “Appease us or we blow up the Big 12.” But OU knows perfectly well that appeasing Texas will eventually blow up the Big 12 anyway. It’s already cost the conference a quarter of its members. And if the Big 12 actually does break up, the Pac-12 would certainly reconsider its options about which schools to pick up in the aftermath since those schools would have no athletic home at the time. That leaves the Pac-12 in a stronger position, too: instead of trying to appease Texas to get it to sign now, wait until it has no other choices and issue a “take it or leave it” offer.

Oklahoma realizes Texas is already in that position: “Hey, Texas! Play equally in the Big 12 or the conference dissolves and you have nowhere to go because of how you’ve acted in the past two years.”

The remaining question is whether Texas can stop seeing itself as the puppet-master for long enough to realize all of the strings its pulling have been cut. They’re still having great success fooling the media into thinking leaks from Austin truly represent what OU or the Pac-12 are thinking, but hopefully even the most sycophantic sportswriters are starting to realize that DeLoss Dodds doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of the Oklahoma, the Pac-12, or even the Big 12.

At this point, he’ll be lucky if there’s any pulse at all for a conference that includes Texas.

One thought on “Oklahoma, the conference, and the media

  1. Now that the Big 12 members have agreed to extend media rights grants for six years—a year after the current media contracts expire—you can expect to see “sources close to the Big 12” or “sources within the conference” spinning to the Austin American-Statesman or OrangeBloods.com how this really doesn’t make any difference and Texas can still do whatever it wants and leave whenever it wants in 3…2…1…

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