Oklahoma president sees Big 12 remaining intact

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — University president David Boren expects Oklahoma to stay in the Big 12. He doesn't think any other schools are leaving the conference either.

Following a disputed report that fellow Big 12 members Nebraska and Missouri had been offered the chance to join the Big Ten, Boren told The Associated Press on Thursday that he believes "if any member decided to leave, they would regret it later on."

"We're very happy with the Big 12 Conference and we certainly expect to stay in the Big 12 Conference," Boren said. "I was sort of shocked to read speculation that OU might leave the Big 12 Conference. Certainly not.

"And I really think that the likelihood of any of the schools leaving the conference is really being blown out of proportion. I think the conference will stay intact."

Boren said Big 12 schools are contemplating ways to bridge a revenue gap that has the Big Ten and Southeastern conferences providing member schools with a higher annual payout, including starting its own leaguewide network. But he pointed out that the nation's economic picture has changed since the Big Ten launched its lucrative cable network, which allows the conference to pay its schools about $22 million per year — millions more than Big 12 schools receive.

"Certainly I think when you look at where we've been, the revenue growth of the member schools in the Big 12 has been quite significant," Boren said. "I really think that if any member decided to leave, they would regret it later on. Financial considerations are not the only considerations."

While the Big Ten was creating its network and the SEC negotiated 15-year television deals with CBS and ESPN in recent years, the Big 12's opportunity to cash in will eventually come. The league currently has a television contract with ABC and ESPN that runs through 2016.

"Some of the other leagues haven't been at the table to finalize their negotiations yet. So, currently, there is a wider gap," athletic director Joe Castiglione said. "But once the television negotiations take place, that gap will narrow some."

The current deal, negotiated before Kevin Weiberg stepped down as commissioner in 2007, took effect in 2008. Big 12 teams have since played for two more national championships and provided the first four players taken in last month's NFL draft.

Overall, the league has had teams play for the BCS title five of the last seven years — Oklahoma three times and Texas twice.

"We really think that we'll do well when we renegotiate those," said Boren, who gets regular briefings from Castiglione and current Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe on expansion. "And also having on the table the potential of our own network, I think our current partners will understand that they need to give us fair compensation."

While Castiglione prefers to focus on building a stronger Big 12, he acknowledged the league and individual schools must be mindful of changes that could happen and prepare to protect their interests.

"It requires the league to think about the way the landscape of college athletics could change, have some contingency plans in place — many or all of which may not ever be used," Castiglione said. "But it would be foolish of us to not be proactive, even though we're really focusing on how we make what we have better."

Castiglione said he considers it "healthy and normal" for conferences to assess growth opportunities from time to time. The only difference this time is that the process has become more public, with "erroneous" speculation about any number of teams realigning with different conferences.

"If we happen to lose one member or two members — and I doubt that will happen, but if it did — there are some very strong programs that would be standing in the wings hoping to join the Big 12," Boren said.

Boren said the Big 12's revenues will only increase over time and "if any school is considering leaving, they need to look not only at the short term but they need to look at the long-term picture as well."

"I think there's a lot more smoke here than there is fire, in terms of the rumors about the Big 12," Boren said. "The demise of the Big 12 is greatly exaggerated. I expect it to stay probably completely intact, or very close to completely intact and in the worst-case scenario still a very strong conference."