Pac-12's posturing belies fluidity
LOS ANGELES -- Of all the places Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott could hold an impromptu interview session Saturday, it figures he'd find himself in the copy room of the Los Angeles Coliseum press box. Makes sense -- whatever the SEC does, the Pac-12 might do the same.
Much like a night earlier in Phoenix, Scott repeated the new Pac-12 company line. The gist of it is this: We're absolutely committed to a 12-team conference. Until we're not.
"Simply put, our presidents and our athletic directors are absolutely thrilled with where we are in a world of 12-team conferences," said Scott, shortly before the start of the first-ever Pac-12 game -- Utah at USC. "We're at the top of the heap and we love our position. If the world changes -- and it's not a world of 12-team conferences anymore -- then we might re-evaluate."
You don't need a Rosetta Stone language course to understand the expansionist dialect of Scott. He came to the then-Pac-10 in 2009 with a mandate to perform plastic surgery on the conference. Thing is, he isn't a nip-and-tuck kind of commissioner.
So, sure, on Saturday in L.A. he can say, "we're not going to be a first mover, we're not initiating moves to superconferences." But if come Monday, SEC invitee Texas A&M can figure out a way to extricate itself from the Big 12 Conference, then watch how fast Scott tries to convince those Pac-12 presidents that another round of expansion makes sense.
"If schools are going to leave the Big 12 and there's going to be a paradigm shift or a landscape change, as people like to describe it, then we will then step back and look at options and reconsider," said Scott.
Scott won't step back, he'll move forward. The question is, will his presidents and chancellors let him?
The SEC isn't going to stop at 13 members if it gets A&M. It likely will add at least a 14th member and possibly two others to reach the superconference minimum of 16. And if that happens, Scott will want to perform more cosmetic procedures to his league.
If nothing else, Scott makes no secret of what direction he thinks college athletics is headed. He sees those superconferences. He sees survival of the fittest. He sees consolidation and expansion as a way to ensure stability.
"I still believe that, yes," said Scott. "I think what's going on is evidence of that. There's a real disparity between certain conferences. I've been saying that over the last year, that I think eventually we'll see more consolidation. But I didn't anticipate that so quickly."
The Big 12 is a mosh pit of nuttiness. A&M wants to leave, but Baylor and its threatened legal action have temporarily dead bolted the Aggies' exit door. Oklahoma's president vows that OU won't be a "wallflower," which is a nice way of saying the Sooners aren't interested in a cabin room if the S.S. Big 12 hits another iceberg. Instead, the Pac-12 could be OU's next conference port.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State gajillionaire booster T. Boone Pickens recently told the Daily Oklahoman that if the Sooners bolt to the Pac-12, then the Cowboys will be attached to OU's hip. And if they stay put, he has no interest in the Big 12 adding independents Notre Dame ("Damaged merchandise," he said of ND) or BYU ("Who in the hell knows where Provo, Utah, is?").
When he wasn't crushing the Irish or the Cougars, Pickens did offer some wise advice.
"Don't rush the monkey and you'll see a better show," he said. "What I'm saying is, maybe be a little patient here and see what happens."
And then there's Texas, which is being blamed for everything from A&M's departure to global warming. But according to Scott, who romanced Texas hard a year ago, the Longhorns and their TV network wouldn't be welcome in the Pac-12.
Maybe so, but everything is negotiable. If Bevo wants to come to the Pac-12, do you really think Scott won't try to figure out a way to make it work?
For now, everything depends on the SEC and the Aggies' ability to free themselves from the legal barbed wire. If Oklahoma publicly proclaims its love for the Big 12 -- and promises to stay put -- then A&M gets to leave. And once that happens, the world of 12-team conferences changes.
In what had to be an interesting conversation, Scott and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe spoke by phone Friday.
"Had a nice chat," said Scott.
I bet. Beebe's conference is in danger of disappearing. It already has fended off one Scott run at the Big 12's big and medium hitters. Colorado bolted and now who knows what OU will do -- and what collateral damage it will create.
Whatever happens, Scott isn't going to sit contentedly with his feet up on his desk. If you want to believe he hasn't spent "one minute" thinking about additional expansion, knock yourself out. But Scott's history suggests otherwise.
Someone asked if Scott could guarantee that the Pac-12 wouldn't be the Pac-14 or Pac-16 a year from now. He couldn't do it -- which tells you everything about the fluidity and frailty of college sports.
"I hope it does [stay the same]," he said. "The ink is still drying on our new logos, the field paint, the uniforms. But it's our hope that the world stays the way it is and we get to enjoy what we've created. But I don't think anyone this day and age, with how dynamic the situation is, would stick their neck out and say nothing's going to [happen]."
Especially the neck attached to Scott.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
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