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Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Updated: September 22, 3:22 AM ET
Big 12 goes to the brink and back again

By Pat Forde
ESPN.com

In an ideal world, Oklahoma and Texas would return to the Big 12 fold today with heightened humility. They would be freshly thankful for the company they keep. They would pledge to be good working partners with their peers.

David Boren
Oklahoma President David Boren might need to do an about-face after the Pac-12 opted against further expansion.

Since this is the real world, not the ideal, I assume the chances of that happening are slim.

But the Sooners and Longhorns can at least be encouraged to show some dignity, class and respect to their conference brethren. After threatening to take their talents and problematic TV network to the Pac-12, the Atlantic Coast Conference and everywhere else but South Beach, they've really got nowhere else to go but back home.

You've embarrassed yourselves and your conference, and now must backpedal faster than Deion Sanders. Your egos and attitudes have helped create a chain-reaction panic from coast to coast. Your infighting needs to end.

Time to pick up the broken dishes and mend the busted fences. Time to get over yourselves and get along.

Throughout the Big 12 turmoil, Oklahoma president David Boren appears to have been holding a pair of twos and playing it like a royal flush. We'll see whether the bluff works now that the cards are hitting the table.

"He's put his school in a tough position by getting so far out on a limb," a well-connected college source said of Boren's power play.

Every indication is that the Sooners have been focused on the Pac-12 for a while now, and Boren has had pointed comments about the leadership of the Big 12. But the above source told me Tuesday afternoon that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott couldn't get some of the most powerful members of his league to bring Oklahoma aboard without Texas -- and Texas didn't want to compromise its Longhorn Network television deal to join the league.

"I know that at least two [Pac-12] presidents out there are saying, 'If Texas isn't part of the deal, don't bring that deal to us,'" the source said. "I don't think Oklahoma has anyplace to go."

Sure enough, the Pac-12 pulled the plug on expansion Tuesday night.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Oklahoma tenor changed rather abruptly Tuesday. Suddenly, the school would consider sticking with the Big 12 -- if its list of demands is met.

Maybe Boren's bluff works and Oklahoma will pull off the improbable: coming home out of options but still throwing its weight around. Maybe it will get Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe's head on a platter; restrictions on Longhorn Network programming; and limited revenue sharing from Texas' TV treasure trove. But it doesn't look like the Big 12 will have to do any of those things to keep the Sooners if it doesn't want to.

Nevertheless, it would behoove Texas to make some concessions -- not just because Oklahoma wants it, but to show its Big 12 brethren that it gives a damn about them.

The Longhorns' steady diet of me-first has left them bloated and indifferent to the feelings of their peers. You can't blame athletic director DeLoss Dodds for capitalizing on his program's abundant successes and rampant popularity, but there has to be some concern for everyone else.

Rubbing your superiority in their faces has been a factor in the departure of 25 percent of the Big 12 over the past year-plus. (And we still don't know for sure what Missouri, itself a fickle and flirtatious corporate partner for over a year, intends to do.) If everyone keeps leaving you, don't you eventually have to look in the mirror and acknowledge that you're part of the problem?

"Texas has got to figure out how to play nice in the sandbox," one Big 12 athletic director told me several weeks ago, when Texas A&M was first agitating to leave for the Southeastern Conference. Officials in other conferences have said for more than a year that they were leery of sharing a league with a school packing such a selfish reputation.

So it's incumbent upon the Big 12's two flagship football schools to be good league partners -- blaming it all on poor Dan Beebe or league-wide jealousy isn't going to solve the situation. But truth be told, even that might not be enough to salvage a conference that has been through this much tumult and infighting.

Trust can't be forced, which is something the Big East is probably finding out now as well. But with sincere effort perhaps it can be repaired and regained.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.