Senior Writer

Make no mistake, Pac-12 desperately wants Texas and Oklahoma


Let's assume that Oklahoma and Texas have an open invitation to join the Pac-12 because, really, the 2010 invite was never formally rescinded.

Let's assume that Larry Scott could be as predatory as last summer when the then-Pac-10 commissioner shocked the world by inviting half the Big 12.

Assume it because it's true. The Pac-12 wants Texas and Oklahoma to be the cornerstones for the Pac-16. Desperately. Everything else is details. Oklahoma State and Texas Tech too? Sure, why not?

As the Big 12 looks for new dance partners and Texas A&M waits to be asked to the SEC prom, realignment is centering on Texas and Oklahoma. The Pac-12 new/old idea is to take two of the most powerful brands in the sport and lock them up for 12 years in the new ESPN/Fox deal worth $3 billion.

Although the Big 12 is anticipating its own lucrative payoff for its primary rights in 2015, it first has to get there. For now, Texas and OU are part of the existing Big 12 (primary) deal that has four years to run.

Oklahoma president David Boren says he'll 'do what's in the best long-term interest of the university.' (Getty Images)  
Oklahoma president David Boren says he'll 'do what's in the best long-term interest of the university.' (Getty Images)  
Four years of uncertainty vs. 12 years of still untapped growth. BYU and Air Force (current Big 12 targets) vs. joining up with USC and Oregon. Pac-12 officials are confident that within its current deal, members may be collecting $30 million per year.

That doesn't mean any of it will happen. Last year the Longhorn Network was a vaguely-defined concept that was the difference in Texas going all in with the Pac-10. Now that LHN has debuted -- with a thud, some might say -- there is more high definition to the subject.

Until Friday, LHN has only one football game on its air, Saturday's opener against Rice. ESPN announced a second game to be aired, vs. Kansas. The high school stuff is basically off the table. The same rules apply to this venture as to others: A college network is only as good as how many football and men's basketball games it can show.

Let's just say the Pac-12 might be a little more accommodating this time around. Scott already is repositioning his league to be worth that $3 billion. I've already written that there is a way to fold the LHN into the Pac-12 Network structure.

Oklahoma president David Boren added to the uncertainty Friday when he said, "I don't know how long before clarity comes to us. It might be a matter of 72 hours; it might be a matter of two weeks. I don't really think this is something that is going to linger on beyond two or three weeks at the outside."

That's not exactly a blood oath to the Big 12.

Pac-12 officials aren't talking publicly because we stand at the brink of Alignment Armageddon once again and so much is at stake.

  Whether the Big 12 remains viable.

  Whether the participating networks want to rearrange revenue like it was deck chairs on a cruise ship. Fox's $1.17 billion contract for cable rights with the Big 12? Why couldn't that be folded into the Pac-12 which has both ESPN and Fox as partners?

Two sources said this week that Fox has its eyes on the Central Time Zone. It can't start West Coast games played in the Pacific Time Zone at 10 a.m. That's impractical. With membership in the Central Time Zone, it could.

That would mean more inventory in an otherwise untouched time slot for the Pac-12. And, folks, this is all about the race to assemble the most attractive inventory. That's why the SEC is seriously considering adding Texas A&M for 2012 in the middle of the 2011 season. That's also why the SEC can't come to an immediate decision on who No. 14 should be. Both decisions will define college football's best and most powerful conference.

  Whether conference commissioners really want to go there, rearranging the fundamental structure of conference affiliation.

It's really an either/or decision now. Big 12 stays together or Oklahoma/Texas go to the Pac-12. Don't expect there to be a third option -- Texas and Oklahoma splitting. Amazingly, Texas has lost a bit of traction having caused the departure of Nebraska and Texas A&M (at least in the eyes of Nebraska and Texas A&M).

There are fewer kids on the playground to bully. Leverage now shifts to Oklahoma which must decide between the Big 12 and the Pac-12. Bob Stoops has long been supportive of a move West. Either way, Texas is suddenly in the position of following rather than leading.

Whatever happens, Texas cannot be perceived as longhorn in the china shop, busting up the league. That's why AD DeLoss Dodds said Thursday that A&M had been approached about partnering the Texas on a network.

"It's not about what we did," Dodds said. "It's about what they didn't do, create their own network."

All it does is makes Texas look blameless. Rest assured the Horns will always be taken care of in any of these scenarios. But Oklahoma and Texas cannot split up, at least as far as Texas is concerned. Any grouping of schools around those two superpowers in the Big 12 is worth saving to some network or another.

Scott told the Austin American-Statesman previously that the network was a deal breaker for the Pac-12. At least that's the headline that went on the wire. But you have to read the actual quote.

"I think you could certainly imply that ... the Longhorn Network would be certainly a huge impediment," he said.

Imply doesn't mean impossible. Huge doesn't mean insurmountable.

There's an opening there. Scott left it that way intentionally. The question is whether Oklahoma and Texas will run through the hole.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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