Column: Watch what schools do, not what they say
When news breaks about college football these days, nothing is exactly what it seems.
Maybe that suspicion is the result of watching university presidents trample one another like McDonald's franchisees fighting over a hot location — then deny the footprints on a rival's back are theirs.
Or perhaps it's hearing the Pac-12 Conference invoke the "best interests" defense in refusing membership to potential applicants — when all it was really interested in was more money.
Both things happened in the span of a few hours Tuesday night, though you wouldn't know it simply by reading the official version of events.
For nearly a year now, Texas and Oklahoma — with Texas Tech and Oklahoma State in tow — have been considering bailing out on the Big 12 Conference to join the Pac-12. This week, both schools finalized details that made it possible to do just that. They didn't even reach the threshold when word came back that there was no more room at the inn.
"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," Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. "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."
Scott didn't expand on the statement, but it's the last part of that — the bit about preserving the "culture of equality" — that killed any chance of a deal.
Texas has its own cable network, which is already a sore spot among Big 12 schools because it refuses to share the revenues generated by the contract with other league members. When Texas apparently told Scott the same thing — despite a revenue-sharing agreement already in place in the Big 12 — the conference's dozen chancellors told the Longhorns not to let the door hit them on the way out.
That decision, as they say in Texas, was no big whoop. The Longhorns have made it clear they're also happy enough staying put in the Big 12, even if the three schools that were busily packing their bags — not to mention just about every other school still residing there — are anything but.
The biggest loser in the shakeout is Oklahoma. Only a day earlier OU president David Boren received permission from the school's board of regents to choose a new conference — a step Texas also had taken — and he said, "we do not want to continue to have these kinds of situations where our membership in a conference has to be revisited every year."
But after the Pac-12 told Oklahoma "no deal," Boren scrambled to save face.
"We were not surprised by the Pac 12's decision to not expand at this time," he said. "Even though we had decided not to apply for membership this year, we have developed a positive relationship with the leadership of the conference and we have kept them informed of the progress we've been making to gain agreement from the Big 12 for changes which will make the conference more stable in the future.
"Conference stability has been our first goal," he claimed, despite going through the trouble of getting the authorization to leave, "and we look forward to achieving that goal through continued membership in the Big 12 Conference."
What Boren is really looking forward to is some help forcing Texas to share some of the loot from the Longhorn Network, or at the very least scale it back and , if published reports are correct, to unseat current Big 12 commissioner Don Beebe.
Unsettled as the landscape in the Big 12 seems at the moment — it's now effectively a nine-team league, since Texas A&M has already been accepted by the Southeastern Conference — it must look stable to everybody still stuck in the fast-shrinking Big East.
Pittsburgh and Syracuse have already announced they're leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference, a situation that's going to get uglier after commissioner John Marinatto wrapped up a three-hour meeting with league officials determined to enforce a bylaw that requires departing schools to give 27 month's notice. If he's successful, it's going to be a fun couple of years for Pitt and Syracuse making the rounds.
Not only that. Marinatto said league members also committed to recruiting replacements for the two — TCU has already agreed to join the Big East in 2012 — and "pledged to each other that they are committed to move forward together."
If current events are any indication, he'll be eating those words soon enough.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/JimLitke.