INDIANAPOLIS – Big 12 leaders held a call without Texas and Oklahoma on Thursday to discuss how to keep the league's flagship schools from bolting to the Southeastern Conference — and contingency plans to survive without them.
“There was no panic,” a person familiar with the meeting told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Big 12 was not making its internal discussions public. “All options are on the table.”
The Big 12 put out a statement Thursday night that revealed few details, but made clear the eight members in danger of being left behind want the Longhorns and Sooners to stay put. And that leaving could be costly for Texas and Oklahoma.
“There is a recognition that institutions may act in their own self-interest, however there is an expectation that members adhere to Conference bylaws and the enforcement of Grant of Rights agreements,” the statement said.
The Big 12's grant of rights, which ties a school's media rights to the conference, runs through the current television deals with ESPN and Fox. Those expire in June 2025.
For Oklahoma and Texas to leave the Big 12 sooner they would either relinquish tens of millions in television revenue for every year the grant is in effect or agree to a financial settlement with the conference.
The person familiar with Thursday's call said Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, athletic directors and school presidents and chancellors discussed possible options for persuading Texas and Oklahoma to remain in the Big 12 and potential ways to keep the conference going if they leave.
Texas and Oklahoma were invited to join the call, and the hope is the Big 12 will soon hear directly from their conference mates, the person said.
Texas and Oklahoma have discussed a move to the SEC with officials from the powerhouse conference, but no formal invitation has been extended nor have the schools officially informed the Big 12 they intend to leave.
Earlier Thursday, leaders from other conferences leaders were hesitant to speculate on what's next, but some observers were concerned about the potential consequences.
“College football is filled with people operating in silos and what they fail to realize is that if they only look at and try to build their silo as big and as shiny as possible than the entirety of the sport is not going to be as strong as it needs to be,” said former Colorado quarterback Joel Klatt, the lead college football analyst for Fox, which holds television rights with the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12.
“I think a move like this would be to the detriment of the sport overall.”
Former Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield put it more starkly: “It would ruin the Big 12. It would be done,” Mayfield said during a break in shooting TV commercials in Cleveland.
The Big 12 was thought to be on life support about a decade ago after losing Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri. Managing to hold on to Texas and Oklahoma allowed the Big 12 to survive as a Power Five conference after it added TCU and West Virginia.
Back when that was playing out, conferences were reacting to one another. The Big Ten pushed over the first domino when it announced in 2009 it was going to explore expansion. Eventually, it lured Nebraska away from the Big 12.
“We often talk about how uncomfortable this time is,” new Nebraska AD Trev Alberts said. “It is. It’s a changing environment. There’s a lot of stress. Now’s the time you want to be part of some stability.”
That Big Ten expansion sparked a frenzy, with conferences and schools fending for themselves. Could a Texas/Oklahoma move to the SEC be the next fire starter?
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren was asked about the news and whether it could prompt the conference to look at expansion —- maybe even reaching out to the two Big 12 schools —- as he opened football media days at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Warren stayed away from speculating, calling the news just another example of the volatility sweeping through college sports.
“That’s the world that we live in right now,” he said. "From where we sit, we’re always constantly evaluating what’s in the best interest of the conference.”
Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, who took over earlier this year after being athletic director at Northwestern, took a similarly cautious approach.
“I think it’s critically important for all of us to always be paying attention to what’s happening in the landscape and understanding what’s happening across the country, whether you’re a conference commissioner, whether you’re an athletic director, whether you’re a president,” he said. “It’s just part of all of our responsibility. And this is the latest maybe conversation that we’re hearing about.”
Former Wisconsin athletic director Alvarez was at Lucas Oil Stadium because the Big Ten announced he would be taking a new role at the conference: special advisor for football. He retired earlier this year.
Alvarez, 74, is not one to shy away from giving his thoughts on a topic. But news of realignment ramping up again caught him off guard.
“It's something you certainly have your antenna up for," Alvarez said.
Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said he had one question for the SEC if it did decide to add the Longhorns and their Horns Up hand sign to the conference?
“Is Horns Down going to be a be a 15-yard penalty in the SEC (as it can be at times in the Big 12)?” Drinkwitz said. "I asked Commissioner Sankey and he said ’no comment.'”
AP sports writers Tom Withers in Cleveland and Aaron Beard in Charlotte contributed to this report.
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