Has the Pac-12 Conference overplayed its hand in walking away from expansion talks with Texas and Oklahoma this week?
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott knows he’s dealing from a position of strength with the largest TV deal in history and the most stable conference. But in the fast-changing world of big-time college football, the Pac-12 is taking a large risk that may well come back to haunt it.
The risk? Within the next five years, the Pac-12 is leapfrogged by the SEC, the ACC and the Big Ten as the era of the super conference begins in earnest. The Pac-12 finally decides to follow suit and expand its membership to 16 schools, but Texas and Oklahoma are no longer options and it is left without the possibility of adding any impact programs.
Scott has made his conference the envy of all others in the last two years, and the Pac-12 CEOs are rightfully thrilled with the status quo. And after engaging in negotiations for the second time in just over a year to create a Pac-16, Scott is well aware that his conference’s long-term viability may well be best served by further expansion.
But after cutting off the latest round of talks with Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on Tuesday, Scott is either gambling that his present 12-team model is sustainable indefinitely or he is engaging in a high-stakes game of chicken with Texas, the main expansion target.
Scott and the Pac-12 CEOs understandably were unwilling to consider bringing Texas into the fold so long as the Longhorns won’t agree to the conference’s revenue-sharing model. Either the Longhorn Network will be folded into the Pac-12’s TV structure or Texas won’t be offered membership.
But the Pac-12 is missing an enormous opportunity by passing up the chance to add Oklahoma.
Blue blood programs rarely hit the market, and Oklahoma had signaled it was very interested in joining the Pac-12, with or without Texas. Bringing the Sooners into the fold would ensure the Pac-12 matters at the highest levels, no matter how much the other power conferences fortify themselves.
Geographic and scheduling concerns aren’t great enough to turn away from an Oklahoma program that has played in eight BCS bowl games, including the championship game four times, since the inception of the BCS in 1998.
Yes, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (part of the package with the Sooners) are not members of the prestigious Association of American Universities. But that didn’t turn the then-Pac-10 away from Utah a year ago – and Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington State aren’t AAU members either.
If the endgame is to woo Texas – under equitable circumstances – wouldn’t a Pac-14 including Oklahoma present a most enticing scenario for the Longhorns?
Maybe Scott feels he is calling Texas’ bluff. Maybe he feels that if the Big 12 continues to crumble (e.g. Missouri to the Big Ten or SEC, Oklahoma following Texas A&M to the SEC), the Longhorns will eventually be forced back to the bargaining table.
But isn’t adding the Oklahoma schools – further destabilizing the Big 12 in the process -- the best way for Scott and the Pac-12 CEO’s to really put the squeeze on Texas?
Sure, the Pac-12 is sitting pretty right now. But is the conference prepared to sit by idly if other major conferences fast-track their own expansion efforts? The ACC and SEC have already begun those pursuits in recent weeks, and the Big 10 may well follow suit closer to the end of its TV deals in 2016.
The Pac-12 walked away from not one but two big prizes – Texas and Oklahoma – this week. What if this was its last best shot at either or both of them?