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Pac-12 officials pull expansion off table

Decision should have wide effects

By Ralph D. Russo
Associated Press / September 21, 2011

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NEW YORK - Twelve is enough for the Pac-12, putting the Big 12 in position to survive yet again.

The Pac-12 presidents and chancellors voted late last night not to expand again. Commissioner Larry Scott said “after careful review we have determined that it is in the best interests of our member institutions, student-athletes, and fans to remain a 12-team conference.’’

Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech were among those considering a potential move from the Big 12. After expanding the Pac-10 with new members Utah and Colorado last year, members of the new Pac-12 won’t give them the chance.

Meanwhile, across the country in New York City, Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said his members “pledged to each other that they are committed to move forward together.’’

The Big East also has been staring at an uncertain future after Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced last weekend they are moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But now it appears the Big East, like the Big 12, stands a good chance to survive the latest round of conference realignment.

On Monday, the board of regents at Texas and Oklahoma voted to give their presidents the right to choose a new conference.

The two rivals have not been acting together. Texas officials had stated several times it wanted to keep the Big 12 alive. Oklahoma officials said they were looking for stability and equal revenue sharing, which does not occur in the Big 12. Texas has its own cable television network.

A person familiar with the schools’ discussions said Texas and Oklahoma officials are expected to meet in the next few days to negotiate an agreement to keep the universities in the league for at least the next five years.

Whether other schools would be invited to join that meeting was unclear last night.

In New York, three people with knowledge of the Big East meeting told The Associated Press that presidents and athletic directors from the conference’s six remaining football members, along with officials from TCU, which is slated to join in 2012, met with Marinatto.

The remaining Big East football schools are West Virginia, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Rutgers, Louisville, and South Florida.

Although the decision by the Pac-12 to stand pat may save the Big 12, the Big East might be facing more defections.

UConn president Susan Herbst said no formal application has been filed with any conference, and the school has not ruled out staying in a reconstituted Big East. But she said she’s receiving inquiries from across the country as the school considers which conference might make the best fit.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford has said his league is comfortable with 14 members, which it will have when Pitt and Syracuse join, but it is not “philosophically’’ opposed to expanding to 16.

Adding UConn and possibly Rutgers, located in New Jersey, would allow the ACC to extend its reach into the New York television market.

Meanwhile, the Mountain West Conference has begun informal conversations with universities that might be left out in the shake-ups. In addition to the league’s talks with schools from the Big 12 and Big East, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson has had conversations with Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky about a football merger. Such a union would create a conference with at least 22 teams in two divisions stretching from Hawaii to the East Coast.

Thompson also said he would be receptive to keeping TCU in the Mountain West beyond its scheduled departure after this season if school officials have second thoughts about joining the Big East.

With dozens of schools and almost every conference affected by realignment, rumors, reports, and speculation emerge almost daily.

CBSSports.com reported that West Virginia’s overtures to the ACC and SEC had been rejected.

And the SEC quickly denied reports that Missouri was on deck to join the conference if the Big 12 fell apart.