By The Associated Press
DALLAS — The Texas Legislature wants a say on any conference alignments that could endanger the Big 12.
Based on this past weekend, the lawmakers had better hurry. Momentum is now threatening to reach critical mass regarding a potential mass exit from the Big 12.
The Friday announcement by Oklahoma president David Boren that the Sooners were exploring their options was immediately followed by a similar announcement from Oklahoma State. Speculation immediately shifted to Texas and Texas Tech joining the group into the Pac-12, a deferred coup for commissioner Larry Scott.
Boren said Oklahoma could decide any time from three days to three weeks. Boren’s timeline of as long as three days to three weeks now looks overly cautious. Multiple sources said they expected major developments soon.
“This could be one crazy week,” a Big 12 school source said Sunday.
Legislative leaders have been closely monitoring the situation, and some have been talking to Texas officials about their concerns over what might happen if the four schools Longhorns and Texas Tech bolt the Big 12, along with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
Some lawmakers said Boren’s comments caught their attention and sparked worries that the Big 12 may be in serious trouble.
“A number of legislators don’t think it would be in the best interest of Texas to have no major conference in the Southwest,” said one lawmaker, who asked to remain anonymous.
“There is a growing sentiment that Texas schools leaving for the Pac-12 doesn’t seem to be a good idea right now.”
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, are among those staying in close touch with university officials over the rapidly changing Big 12 situation.
“Lt. Gov. Dewhurst’s primary focus is to ensure the best possible outcome for all Texas universities,” Mike Walz, a spokesman for Dewhurst, said Sunday.
But a source in the Senate emphasized legislative leaders right now are not trying to tell UT or Texas Tech what to do other than to make sure whatever they do “is in the best interests” of their universities and students.
“If the Big 12 Conference starts to dissolve, that could change,” he added. “But right now we’re just closely watching any developments.”
When Texas A&M gave notice last week that it is seeking membership in another conference, bothSen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, chairs of the higher education committees in their respective chambers, said they had no plans to convene a hearing. The Aggies are interested in joining the Southeastern Conference.
However, Branch indicated Sunday he may change his mind in the wake of what is happening with other Texas schools in the Big 12.
“The decision not to hold hearings was based on the assumption that the Big 12 would remain stable even without Texas A&M. But that scenario seems to be changing,” Branch said.
“A hearing may be back on soon,” he said, noting that when his committee met last week on another matter, it recessed rather than adjourned so that it could reconvene quickly depending on developmentsin the Big 12.
Some other lawmakers indicated they may have to take another look at Texas A&M’s exit from the Big 12 if it means the future of the conference is now in jeopardy — a possibility that was discounted by many just days ago.
“There are some indications that the foundation of the Big 12 may be cracking, and a lot of people don’t want to see that happen,” said one legislative source.
The Legislature isn’t the only obstacle.
The same concerns about the Pac-12 that arose in June 2010 when it approached six Big 12 schools, including Texas and Texas A&M, could again surface. Travel again would be more difficult as would West Coast start times. Texas would go from the Big 12 power broker to just another strong voice in an expanded league.
But Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could force a decision if they depart first to the Pac-12.