If all this sounds complicated, it is. It's like Jenga, but with universities instead of wooden blocks, and with billions in TV revenue at stake. If the Big 12 folds, America may end up with four megaconferences, doing away with some century-old rivalries and radically changing the landscape of college sports.
For now, Big 12 schools are waiting to see what happens with Texas A&M and the Universities of Texas and Oklahoma.
Enter Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the Republican Party's leading presidential contender, who happens to be a former yell leader for the Aggies. Oil man T. Boone Pickens, an Oklahoma State booster, recently called on Perry to save the Big 12 by leaning on Texas A&M to stay put.
Perry should step in and show America that "you fix problems, don't contribute to 'em," Pickens told The Oklahoman.
Nobody in Texas particularly cares what Oklahoma sports fans have to say, but Pickens lives in Dallas and has a big voice in the Lone Star State, so the Pickens Plan (get it?) for Big 12 preservation merits a look.
COULD PERRY DO IT?
The answer: maybe. How? With soft power and hard threats.
Perry appointed all 20 members of the University of Texas and Texas A&M boards of regents, so there's that. The governor could, conceivably, take a 20 minute break from campaigning to call up Texas A&M board chairman Richard A. Box and ask, casually, "So, Dick, remember when I gave you this job seven months ago, on March 24? I'd really like to see that Big 12 hang together ..."
None of the regents' terms will expire until Feb. 2013, and Perry can always threaten not to reappoint them should he fail to become president.
Texas universities also rely on the state legislature for money. See Texas A&M's giant fiscal-year 2012-2013 appropriations request here. The state legislature's House Committee on Higher Education is looking into Texas A&M's desire to leave. Working with the legislature, Perry can apply some pressure to the Aggies.
The same goes for the University of Texas. The Longhorns caused the Big 12's problems by striking a deal with ESPN in the first place, creating an exclusive TV network for high school football games that spawned the Big 12's discontent. The Longhorn Network will generate money and untold recruiting advantages, with revenue going strictly to Texas. Perry can use all the same tools to pressure Texas into sharing Longhorn Network revenue with the rest of the Big 12. Texas's university president is open to that idea; it's athletic director isn't. Perry might be able to tip the scales, sticking it to his alma mater's rival all the while.
Working against Perry's ability to do anything meaningful is the difficult fact that no one really knows what's going on. There are too many factors. If the Pac-12 wants Oklahoma and Texas, and the conference is willing to endure a lawsuit from Baylor and other Big 12 schools, Perry can't control that.
SHOULD PERRY DO IT?