The latest story to set tongues wagging around the college sports world came this week from Omaha World-Herald columnist Lee Barfknecht, who reported that five Big 12 schools, including Oklahoma, reached out to the Big Ten in 2010 when the Big 12 was on the verge of imploding.
Of course they did. Opportunities are born from crisis. It would have represented gross incompetence on the part of the administration at a school like OU to not assess all of its options at a time when Texas was batting its eyes at both Larry Scott and ESPN.
But rehashing the events of five years ago really just served as a gateway to Barfknecht's rumor du jour tenuously linking the B1G with OU and Kansas.
Frank the Tank, one of blogosphere’s more cerebral realignment aficionados, stoked the fire today with a post relating what he has heard about the latest conference machinations. The piece covers a handful of Big 12 angles, but the upshot of Mr. Tank’s article is that the Sooners want out of the league and are open for business when it comes to fielding offers from other conferences. (He also paints a picture of an athletic department that is somewhat at odds with OU president David Boren over the school’s best conference destination.)
A few observations about all this scuttlebutt:
*Before we go too far down any conference realignment path, I’d like to first register my skepticism that OU is going anywhere in the near future.
The last round of bed-hopping got nasty. In addition to the hard feelings that emerged between schools and their jilted leagues, there were threats of ugly lawsuits. Also, the naked money grabs by the major conferences arguably primed the pump for some of the current threats to the college sports business model.
If everyone in the Big 12 didn’t have a feathery pillow to land on, you can be sure that an effort by any school to break away while the current grant of rights is in place would be nastier than the fallout from five years ago. That goes for a defector’s future league, too, as it would likely be looking at the possibility of some type of tampering lawsuit. I doubt that many administrators in college sports have the stomach for that right now.
*I keep reading about some politically mandated union between OU and Oklahoma State. I’ve always maintained that the tie between the two is overstated, which would seem to gain credence with the report that OU alone was among the five schools that approached the Big Ten in 2010.
The level of mutual disdain that became evident in the Texas-Texas A&M divorce, for example, doesn’t exist between the Bedlam rivals. I suspect most people in power around the state of Oklahoma would prefer to see OU and OSU stay together, but it’s really not a must. In that sense, I think carving out a place for OSU may constitute a bargaining chip for Boren in talks with other conferences.
(Honestly, I’d prefer to see them stay in the same conference for the good of the state.)
*I don’t know if I buy Frank’s assertion that the athletic department wants OU to go to the SEC, although I do suspect there are plenty of boosters who want to see that happen.
*Speaking of which, it doesn’t make much sense for Boren to be rattling his saber right now except to placate some mouthy donors. It seems to me like the consensus among boosters regarding OU’s conference affiliation has to be something like “anything but this." Would expanding the Big 12 appease that crowd?
Keep in mind that the people with the money usually bat around 1.000 in these situations.
*If you're Texas, how do you like the prospect of OU and Texas A&M in the SEC?
For the sake of the rivalry, I'd hope that the idea of losing OU would motivate the Longhorns to consider taking steps to secure a future for the two programs together. Unfortunately, I've seen this movie before – historically, it ends with UT looking for new friends.
*Is any of this happening right now if the Sooners didn't face plant last year on the football field?
For the record, I lean toward the argument that leaving the Big 12 is likely a bad long-term move for OU's football program. There are very good reasons for the Sooners to find a new home, but if you think a new conference is some kind of magic bullet to give the football program some juice, I'm betting you won't like how that turns out.