Wednesday evening, the Austin American Statesman's Kirk Bohls wrote an editorial that suggested the University of Texas was deferring judgement on the merit of their shared continuing commitment to Big 12 to the University of Oklahoma.
According to Bohls, who looks like this year's Chip Brown, if OU decided to go to the Pac-12 and get a deal done, UT was likely to happily do what was required to quietly go along with the Sooners.
After chasing off A&M and seeing UT Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds blow the first two legs of UT's Big 12 alleged expansion plan (adding the University of Arkansas, Notre Dame and Brigham Young University), the article implies UT decided they were tired of being seen as the villain across Big 12 territory and cheerfully deferred the Doctor Kevorkian role to OU.
(The Sooners had previously expressed an eagerness to join the Pac-12 if the Big 12 failed. Their leadership feels such a move would enhance the academic reputation of their university and would likely allow them to go with rivals UT and Oklahoma State.)
In the article, Bohls casually threw out that "...Maybe the Big 12 could survive with BYU, [The University of] Pitt[sburgh] and, say, [the University of] Louisville, and it says here the league would need to add three teams to avoid looking vulnerable to a single school holding the conference's future hostage every year."
Whether that is Bohls' opinion or something fed to him by Dodds and sources at Bevo central is unclear. For what it is worth, other Big 12 media outlets have apparently mentioned Pitt as a candidate lately.
An ominous turn for BYU and the University of Houston
Bohls did say things look dark for the remaining earlier front-runners for expansion—BYU and Houston.
An argument is apparently out there that BYU's use of older, more mature players back from two-year missionary trips gives it a competitive advantage that some Big 12 schools find objectionable. There is also allegedly concerns about BYU's academics (but that sounds like total garbage designed to mask the fact that conference may be considering passing on BYU).
UT and Tech apparently jealously covet the Houston area in recruiting terms, and it sounds like they are blocking Houston's candidacy to protect their limited claim on talent in the area. Or at least that is the story the most plugged-in reporter in Austin wrote.
Dodds is on record pining for a UT-led mega conference. According to Dallas sports personality Richie Whitt in a recent Dallas Observer article, that conference would be based on the best parts of the Big 12 and the Big East with some glitter stolen from the SEC and ACC. Is that a sincere desire or a bit of misdirection?
Getting to that goal required more mass in the conference's core. The Big 12 needs more big names to keep at-risk schools like Missouri in the fold and attract the other members UT allegedly covets. Missouri was mentioned as the other central team in the SEC's plan to get to 16 schools. Missouri has denied interest.
Yesterday it was reported by Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman that OU's president and athletic director have been active players in attempting to keep the Big 12 intact. OU apparently flew Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton down to College Station last weekend in an effort to convince the Aggies to stay.
Now, Deaton is the Chairman of the Big 12 Board of Directors, so bringing him along may have had nothing to do with Missouri's membership, but given the rumours, there may have been a second school to sell on that trip.
DeLoss Dodds is a lousy salesman...or is he?
The original short list out of Austin reporters had Arkansas in UT's list of front-runners. The second list did not, implying Dodds misjudged the sway he had with Arkansas. He may have approached Arkansas first, thinking they were the low-hanging fruit in their group of three candidates. They may have flatly turned him down.
Anyone following the Arkansas to the Big 12 discussions that started last year could have told you it would be beyond a tough sell to their fanbase. The idea that the Razorbacks would jump to be A&M's replacement makes no sense.
The Big 12 looks fragile today. You would have to make it look stable by adding to the core first. With Notre Dame and BYU on board, approaching Arkansas as team 12 might be a reasonable effort. Approaching them as team No. 10 (if that is how it occurred) would be laughable.
After weeks of UT mentioning Notre Dame at the top of their expansion list with BYU (creating the exciting possibility of regular matchups of the king of the Catholic universities vs. the king of the Mormon universities), Notre Dame declined UT's advances on Monday.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told Bohls, "Our priority—and our clear priority—is maintaining our football independence and continuing to build our relationship with the Big East with our other sports...”
It again sounds like Dodds took the wrong approach to landing Notre Dame. Since the NCAA lost the power to do TV negotiations, Notre Dame has fed their alumni and fans the idea that independence and the stand-alone TV deal they have are key to maintaining their national schedule that maintains their allure.
Notre Dame boosters would run out their leadership with pitchforks and torches if they joined the Big 12 as an all-sports member after turning down the same offer from the Big 10.
Last year, Notre Dame rebuffed ham-fisted attempts by the Big 10 to push them into an all-sports affiliation. Swarbrick's quote suggests Dodds tried the same rather than offering a likely much more appealing Olympic sports-only membership to the Irish. The failure was, again, quite predictable.
Adding distant BYU on its own never appeared appealing enough to prevent additional team losses. With Notre Dame declining Dodds' advances, the thought of adding BYU with Air Force as a travel partner and then Houston for 12 appears on the surface to be too much for Dodds and UT.
So is Dodds just a horrible salesman who is totally inept at sensing what the customer doesn't want to hear? Or did he throw the sales pitches?
What does UT really want?
Dodds was caught on record August 12th stating UT's preference with regards to expansion. “I think nine are solid. I think 10’s a good number. I’ve always liked 10. In my mind, we’d try to stay at 10. If we had to, we’d go to 12.”
That last sentence seemed to imply thatUT's preference is to just add a BYU and move on (or even stay at nine), allowing UT to retain control of an equally unstable conference that Dodds can continue to manipulate. He acknowledged that the desires of his conference mates may dictate larger expansion.
UT can now go to their conference mates and say, "Well, we tried to pull in one of our big-fish friends. Maybe we should really consider just adding BYU or even just staying at nine for now rather than watering down our product..."
Or maybe now UT can walk away from the leadership position in the expansion efforts after (possibly) pushing out their preference for a raid on the best part of Dodds' pal Swarbrick's Big East.
Or maybe neither Dodds nor his alleged protege Swarbrick want to get their hands dirty. Maybe the thought is that OU can lead the Big 12 into stealing Louisville and Pitt, triggering subsequent raids on the football Big East. Then Notre Dame can join the Big 12 as an Olympic sports-only member of the Big 12 with very little blood on their hands over leaving an unstable Big East.
Last year's playbook
It sounds like UT has gone back to last year's playbook when they let someone else be the villain who destabilizes the Big 12, leaving UT with no other choice than to look at their options. Last year Colorado and Missouri were the villains who were breaking the conference covenant. This year it is A&M.
Last year, UT coyly sat back and let someone else handle the dirty work. Last year it was PAC-12 commissioner Larry Scott. This year it is OU.
(Heck, that is kind of what happened in the last days of the Southwest Conference when Arkansas broke the seal on the conference, freeing UT to leave. UT may be a one-trick pony, but it is a heck of a trick.)
It is a nice position to be in and at any point—just like last year—UT can put back on their white cowboy hats and ride back in as the saviors of the Big 12.
UPDATE: In fact, UT may have done just that late last night in a new story from Bohls that is probably 50 percent damage control from a little too much truth in Bohls' editorial and 50 percent throwing A&M under the bus as being unreasonable.
It makes one wonder if OU's leadership called UT last night and said, "The PAC-12 is receptive to us joining with OSU and Texas Tech. All you have to do is pay your own damned exit fees and eat a little crow..." ...to which UT responded by renewing its commitment to rebuilding the Big 12.