Thus ends a frenzied month of buildup toward Pac-12 conference expansion. And just like last year, it won't end with the first college super conference.
The Pac-12 has slammed the door shut on the Texas Longhorns, and by proxy the Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma St. Cowboys. It didn't even have to come to a vote. Texas refused to budge on the Longhorn Network, and the Pac-12 refused to budge on equal revenue sharing. The Pac-12 presidents and regents didn't want to take on Oklahoma and Oklahoma State without Texas [and Texas Tech], and they definitely didn't want to take on Texas with that giant albatross of ESPN Bevo. So things stay the way they are.
There won't be much argument around the Pac-12 schools that the conference made the right decision to keep things the way they are. Jeff Nusser of CougCenter had a very good viewpoint on the situation.
The conference is a model of stability. You could say that hasn't always been a good thing because the conference hasn't been as aggressive as it could have been in the past, but in this case, I think leaning toward stability is wise. The ACC is panicking, so it struck first. The Big East is now panicking. The Big 12 is on the verge of either collapse or becoming some kind of zombie conference that will add a team or two that ultimately lowers its overall profile just to stay alive.
All the while, the Pac-12 just sits back and watches the carnage with everything it already wants in hand -- a football championship, an enormous TV contract, its own digital media network. Perhaps not taking on the football properties of Oklahoma and Texas puts the conference in a slightly weaker position a decade from now in media rights negotiations, but if that's the price to pay for not getting used like a cheap tramp by Texas until the Longhorns find a better deal, I'm all for patience.
Texas will probably be alright for now, but their position is fairly tentative unless they start seriously considering independence. They've rejected the Pac-12 once and have been stonewalled this time around. There doesn't appear to be any considerable benefit to sticking around the Big 8, version 2.0. With no other conference interested in the Longhorn Network, it's starting to look like Texas would be best off striking it on their own and seeing how far they can go. If it doesn't work for them, they fold up shop and look to a conference that will take them. Not ideal, but still Texas has plenty of options here. They're just going to have to hope they haven't bitten too many of their partners in the hand that they won't be averse to future expansion.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State aren't going to stop looking around. As suspected, the Pac-14 caused too many divisional problems, and geography also offset any financial benefits from adding these programs. It's possible that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were probably used as bait to bring in Texas, but the Horns decided to play that card right back and call the Pac-12's bluff. It worked out in keeping the Big 12 breathing.
However, even when Texas wins back the Big 12, they could lose it as well.
Oklahoma made public their feelings on the Big 12 when they thought they had a bargaining chip with the possibility of Pac-12 expansion. Get rid of the Big 12 commish Dan Beebe (still quite possible) and equal revenue sharing with Texas (now quite impossible). If the Longhorns don't plan on settling (and if they weren't going to settle with the Pac-12, why on Earth would they do it in the Big 12?), Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will keep on looking for a new home, whether it be in the Pac-12, the ACC, or a new Big 12. Texas needs to find their own spot in a hurry, because last I checked, a conference can't stay in the top six with seven teams left in it.
learned well from last year's expansion debacle to trust Texas. So the commissioner decided to do something interesting this year--instead of moving to the forefront to try and court the Longhorns, he stayed back. He never publicly commented on expansion. He towed the party line instead, saying that he would support whatever the members of the conference decided they wanted. When they made it clear that what Texas desires runs strictly in conflict to the goals of the new conference, that was that.
In many ways, a Pac-12 and a weakened Big 12 work just as well as a Pac-16 and no Big 12. Oklahoma and Texas are now in the role that Pac-10 powerhouses USC once faced. They now have to run through their conference unscathed to get to BCS title games, or face oblivion. Meanwhile, the Pac-12 will have the extra game via the conference championship to break any tiebreakers with the Big 12, and will now move right up with the Big Ten in challenging for football national title spots on a yearly basis.
Could the Pac-12 be more powerful with the Texas and Oklahoma schools in the fold? Yes, but the long-term stability of the conference would be greatly challenged. Texas having its own network would be a point of contention for too many schools, could open up the demands for other big-time schools USC to demand their own conference network, and could in turn ruin the lucrative Pac-12 TV deal that Scott has placed for the entire school. It's the right move to stay at 12 if Texas isn't willing to concede.
"After careful review we have determined that it is in the best interests of our member institutions, student-athletes and fans to remain a 12-team conference. While we have great respect for all of the institutions that have contacted us, and certain expansion proposals were financially attractive, we have a strong conference structure and culture of equality that we are committed to preserve. With new landmark TV agreements and plans to launch our innovative television networks, we are going to focus solely on these great assets, our strong heritage and the bright future in front of us."
Can the situation change? Of course. But it looks like that process will take years rather than weeks. So sit back and enjoy the Pac-12 era for as long as it lasts. Because you never know when the realignment talks will heat up again ...