Pac-10 and Big 12: Will It Be a Partnership Or a Raid?
The latest came Thursday in the form of a report from Orangebloods.com (a Rivals.com member), which said the Pac-10 is prepared to offer membership to six Big 12 schools to form a mega 16-team conference that would cover the western half of the country and break into seven of the nation's top 20 television markets.
According to the report, the Pac-10 is all but ready to extend invitations to Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Colorado by the conclusion of its spring meetings slated to take place this weekend in San Francisco.
New Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott denied the report Thursday.
"We are aware of a story filed today by an Orangebloods.com columnist, speculating about possible expansion plans for the Pac-10 conference," Scott said to the Cedar Rapids Gazette. "While many interesting scenarios have been suggested in numerous news reports around the country, we remain focused on a thorough evaluation process that examines all of the options for increasing the value of the conference for our member institutions, our student-athletes and our fans. We have not developed any definitive plans. We have not extended any invitations for expansion and we do not anticipate any such decisions in the near term."
Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe abruptly canceled a scheduled press conference during at the conclusion of the third day of his league's meeting Thursday, saying that he will answer questions Friday after the league's board of directors meet for the last time and the meetings wrap up.
Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn, however, told the Boulder Daily Camera on Thursday that he and other conference officials had been led to believe that Colorado and five other Big 12 schools could receive invitations from the Pac-10 as early as this weekend.
Bohn also told the newspaper that he has not had contact with the Pac-10 or any of its officials and he was not sure how he came to believe the invitations were coming. But there was major buzz about the possibility throughout the InterContinental Hotel on Thursday as the Big 12 athletic directors and presidents met.
"The longer that we were together in Kansas City, it appeared that that rumor or speculation did have some validity to it," Bohn said to the Daily Camera.
So now for at least another day we are left to ponder the viability of a "Big 16" or Pac-16 league. Some insiders believe that this exact scenario is possible because schools like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are not good fits academically with schools like Stanford and Cal in the Pac-10.
"Such an alliance just doesn't make sense," one athletic director with strong Pac-10 ties told FanHouse on Thursday. "Academically, some of these schools just don't make sense for the Pac-10. I don't see it happening that way."
What is believed is that there could be some sort of alliance between the Big 12 and Pac-10 for scheduling and television purposes. The two leagues could partner for a rich television deal or perhaps even form a network for cable that would rival the Big Ten Network.
Big 12 officials have been forthright this week that they have at least had exploratory discussions with Pac-10 officials about how the two conferences might be able to partner together.
"We have, sure. I think there is some potential value there," Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said Thursday in between meetings. "We've had one meeting with some of the members of the Pac-10. It wasn't really a scheduled meeting per se. It was sort of a gathering, if you will."
The fact that the two conferences have entered into those types of discussions also seems to make it unlikely that the Pac-10 is ready to offer membership to some Big 12 schools. According to the Orangeblood.com report, schools like Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State would be left to fend for themselves, while there is plenty of speculation that Missouri and Nebraska will be absorbed by the Big Ten when that league decides to expand.
The report says that the six rumored Big 12 schools would fuse with Arizona and Arizona State to form an eight-team division. USC, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, Cal, Stanford, Washington and Washington State would form the other division of the "Big 16."
But Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne seemed to shoot down any such alliance on Wednesday before the report came out, saying the two-hour time difference and the distance between the schools would create logistical nightmares, especially for the non-revenue sports.
"I've heard a lot about the distances we'd have to have our student-athletes travel," Byrne said. "We had a really tough experience in April when we had to bring our teams from Seattle and Spokane and after ballgames and we got into College Station at I believe 6:30 in the morning. Then we expect for our kids to go to class at 8 o'clock. That's tough. We are really concerned about student-athletes on this thing."
"I think we need to have some plans and I think those are being developed right now as to ways we can keep the conference together."
And that has seemed to be the overriding theme of the week: Keeping the Big 12 together as is. But with the landscape around the league threatening to change, that may not be realistic.
Castiglione was asked Thursday if he could imagine a scenario where Oklahoma competes in the Pac-10 and he said no, but also admitted he would not be the one making that decision. Only the presidents and chancellors in the Big 12 have a vote on such moves.
"It's not a scenario I really want to imagine at this point or really think about any other types of scenarios if I didn't have to," he said. "I am just one of the leaders on the campus and I do report to a president and a board and those kinds of scenarios, possible or imaginary, would have to be vetted out with them and I couldn't speculate as to how they perceive that or not.
"We really have been focused on working through the business of the Big 12, most of which is very normal at this time."
But should a school like Missouri or Nebraska jump to the Big Ten in the next 18 months, that might force the Big 12 to do something radical like align with the Pac-10 -- because there aren't any comparable replacements just waiting to join the Big 12. Losing Missouri would mean the loss of the St. Louis television market while defection of Nebraska would translate into the loss of a program with national appeal.
One concern has been that the Big 12 has not been proactive enough with the threat of realignment looming. Partnering with the Pac-10 would certainly seem to be a preemptive strike.
"We haven't put out any kind of scenario like if one, two or multiple teams leave but I do think some people have thought through how successful we could be in a different kind of configuration," Castiglione said. "But if that configuration changes dramatically, it might take away our ability to keep the Big 12 intact and viable -- then that falls back on the institutional leaders to have contingency plans in place. Yet all of our energies have been focused on this.
"We may have to and we certainly would have options if we needed them," he continued. "But I could not be more sincere than how committed we are to the health of this league going forward and how proud we are in what has been achieved in the 14 years this league has been in existence."