Thursday, September 22, 2011
OU source: 'Plan was to go' to Pac-12
By Jake Trotter
NORMAN, Okla. -- The Pac-12 Conference announced Tuesday night it was closing the door on expansion, effectively ending any chance of Oklahoma leaving the Big 12.
Contrary to a report suggesting OU simply feigned interest in the Pac-12 from the beginning only to gain leverage on Texas, a high-level OU athletic department source explained that the Sooners had acted in good faith and had been planning to apply for Pac-12 membership.
"The plan was to go," the source told SoonerNation.
OU coveted conference stability, and the idea of aligning with the Pac-12's academic powerhouses was attractive to president David Boren and others.
When Texas officials flew to Oklahoma City two Sundays ago for a face-to-face meeting, the Sooners made clear those intentions.
But according to the source, OU officials were nervous about going to a league without Texas. They decided it was worth waiting on Texas' next move, since there were assurances from Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott that OU would be accepted along with Oklahoma State, with or without the Longhorns.
"It was always assumed we'd go when we were ready," the source said.
It's unclear what prompted the Pac-12 to make a sudden announcement Tuesday that it wasn't expanding. Up until that day, Sooners officials believed a Pac-12 application would be approved. And Monday the OU regents authorized Boren to "take action" on conference realignment with the assumption he would apply for Pac-12 membership.
But after the regents meeting, Boren's public tenor began to change. He surprised some by telling the press the Big 12 was still on the table. Then Tuesday, an unnamed OU official in The Oklahoman and Tulsa World rolled out a list of demands that, if met by Texas, would keep the Sooners in the Big 12.
"We went from a position of hardline poker to basically seemingly changing direction," the source said. "That obviously weakened our bargaining power. Why that happened, I don't know."
The source said Bob Stoops, a sounding board for Boren, had become more vocal about staying. Stoops was open to Pac-12 expansion, according to the source, but did not favor it without Texas. Stoops admitted after Wednesday's practice that talks between he and Boren had intensified since the weekend.
"We don't do anything without serious consultation with Bob," the source said, "and Bob was hesitant about going alone."
An unnamed school official claimed in The Oklahoman that it was Boren that turned down the Pac-12. Scott wouldn't directly refute the claim, though he did say he didn't "want to contradict anything that they feel they need to say as part of the process they are in."
But a well-connected college source told ESPN.com's Pat Forde that he didn't think "Oklahoma has anyplace to go" and that at least two Pac-12 presidents were against a deal that didn't include Texas.
It's unclear whether any of OU's demands by Texas were met behind the scenes. But Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds declared Wednesday that Texas would not negotiate or compromise in any way on the Longhorn Network.
"What's happened is very disappointing," the source said. "It appears we've gone full circle."
Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation.
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