Morning Tailgate: Conference Realignment, Centrist Politicians And The Future

To understand Oklahoma's decision between fleeing for the Pac-12 and patching together the Big 12, first understand David Boren.

From when my parents graduated college to when I entered high school, David Boren was an omnipresent politician in my state of then-residence. He served four years as Governor of Oklahoma, then 16 years as U.S. Senator. He was the type of Democrat who can get elected in Oklahoma, an old-school centrist who is useful in a healthy, bipartisan environment but only symbolic and somewhat damaging to his own party in today's political climate.

Boren escaped politics to become president of the University of Oklahoma in the 1990s. He is still as self-important as only a two-decade politician could be, but that has served him and his university rather well. And his words still carry heft. My first two reactions when he spoke up about Oklahoma's role in conference realignment a couple of weeks ago: 1) "Man, does that guy still enjoy hearing himself speak," and 2) "Wow, so Oklahoma really might be about to leave the Big 12." Boren would never have spoken up unless change was imminent in his (and his regents') eyes.

Now that Boren has been given authority to determine Oklahoma's future and has quoted Margaret Thatcher in the process, we wait. His message yesterday was rather clear: Oklahoma wants to be in a conference focused on equality. Having watched Nebraska, Colorado and now Texas A&M head for the exits, Boren is suitably convinced that the Big 12's intentionally unbalanced philosophy is not a successful one.

"Whatever conference we join, or whatever conference we stay in – those are obviously the two major options – the University of Oklahoma has no ambition to dominate any conference," Boren said after being asked about the network. "We simply have the ambition of being a member, an equal member, of any conference, playing by the same rules, by having a level playing field for all the members of that conference and developing a high level of trust in each other. That's our goal. That's what we're after."

I've said for a while now that Oklahoma holds all the cards when it comes to conference Armageddon realignment. They will either be moving to a new Pac-XX Conference or staying in a Big 12 that has changed its approach to revenue and equality. It appears that if Texas (and, technically, the other remaining schools, but really Texas) is willing to compromise in terms of revenue (and power) sharing, then there is still an avenue for the Big 12's survival. And as we discussed yesterday, if the conference somehow survives the next few weeks, then expansion candidates may have just become available.

So ... is it in Texas' best interests to compromise and attempt to get the Sooners to stay in the midwest? Should they attempt compromise out west instead? Should they continue down the "No retreat, baby, and no surrender" road? From the esteemed Peter Bean:

At least to me, that's what this all boils down to: Can Texas talk Oklahoma into holding out from an immediate move, getting by in a duct-taped Big 12, and leveraging their collective strength into a more favorable position down the line. There are many reasons that's far from a sure thing, not least of which is because it requires a leap of faith on the part of Oklahoma that Texas won't ultimately go a different direction. Whether Texas is willing to make enough assurances to Oklahoma to keep them on board probably depends on how realistic/attractive UT considers its other options, but if Texas sees the Pac-16 as its ultimate destination, it's in its interest to make some commitments now, even if it forecloses other possibilities later.

If, on the other hand, Texas thinks there are a number of viable options that it wants to leave on the table, it's at the mercy of Oklahoma and will have to decide whether to make its long-term decision now, or scrounge together another interim plan while it holds out for more information and better leverage.  Given those two options, I'm inclined to think that Texas tries its best to band with Oklahoma and negotiate collectively with the Pac-12. Together, Texas and OU have leverage, because together they can always MacGuyver the Big 12 for a little while longer. Separated, Texas' options get messy, and they'll have to decide whether to compromise pretty heavily as part of entry into the Pac-12, or hold off on their own.

Oklahoma is currently the No. 1 team in the country. They just knocked off a Top Five team on the road, and of their four most highly-ranked remaining opponents (Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State), they face only one in a hostile road environment (OSU). They control their own destiny in the present tense, and they control just about everybody's destiny in the future tense. Five years from now, they will be in one of the following three Conferences:

Conference A: The Pac-16

Pod A
Oregon
Oregon State
Washington
Washington State
Pod B
California
Stanford
UCLA
USC
Pod C
Arizona
Arizona State
Colorado
Utah
Pod D
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
Texas*
Texas Tech*

* Or some combination of Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Whoever.

Conference B: The Pac-14

North
California
Oregon
Oregon State
Stanford
Utah
Washington
Washington State
South
Arizona
Arizona State
Colorado
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
UCLA
USC

Conference C: The Big 12

North
BYU*
Iowa State
Kansas
Kansas State
Louisville*
Missouri
South
Baylor
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
TCU*
Texas
Texas Tech

* Some combination of Air Force, BYU, Cincinnati, Louisville, TCU and Random Other Big East Leftover.

Centrist politicians go out of their way to tell you just how reasonable they are, and as such, I'm sure David Boren really does mean it when he says there's a chance Oklahoma stays in the Big 12. But the only way that happens is if Texas changes its way of thinking, and it is not immediately clear whether that is in the Longhorns' best interests. We have resigned ourselves to the destruction of the Big 12, just like we did last year. We are making those assumptions because evidence suggests the odds are good, but as long as the "Both Oklahoma and Texas get to feel like they once again did everybody a favor and saved the Big 12" scenario is still on the table, the Big 12 still has a chance.

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