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Reason wins the day for Pac-12, Washington State

Wed., Sept. 21, 2011

The difference between prostitution and college football?

Hookers don’t have as much trouble deciding which street corner to work.

Maybe it’s because they’re all in fishnet stockings, but you can’t tell the players without GPS these days. Pittsburgh and Syracuse give the Big East the air and head to the ACC. The Big East talks about replacing them with Temple, which it jettisoned years ago. Texas A&M waits in the SEC’s parlor out of spite. The Mountain West, down to exactly one football program that anyone gives a damn about with TCU fleeing, makes noise about merging with ConferenceUSA, which has exactly none.

Yet in the midst of the madness, some sanity. Maybe even a smidgen of integrity.

In a conference call on Tuesday night, the CEOs of the Pacific-12 Conference came to a consensus that further expansion is not in their best interests – and, perhaps by accident, not in the best interests of anyone who cares about college athletics.

Thus, they shut the door for now – though not dead-bolting it – on those not-so-wise men of the east: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech.

“While we have great respect for all of the institutions that have contacted us,” said Pac-12 commissioner and land broker Larry Scott, “and certain expansion proposals were financially attractive, we have a strong conference structure and culture of equality that we are committed to preserve.”

Culture of equality. That would be meant for you, Longhorns.

This may not stop conferences from cannibalizing one another, though it could – and at least it will detour the stampede elsewhere.

Among the many corners where this should be cheered is Pullman. Washington State was a happy beneficiary of the new all-for-one revenue distribution that came with the expansion from 10 schools to 12 last summer, and then the windfall from a new TV package that kicks in next year.

But it’s a given that whatever extra monies the Oklahomas and even Texas might have added this time around, the Cougars would have been further marginalized competitively in their own league. And that they couldn’t afford.

It is absolutely fascinating that barely a year ago, Scott’s bosses gave him the go-ahead to make a raid through the Big 12 to try to scoop up Texas, A&M, Colorado and the Oklahomas – that mostly failed. Texas used the moment for leveraging a top-heavy deal – no culture of equality there, simply a Culture of More – and the Pac-12 consoled itself with Utah instead. It took less than one cycle of the calendar for A&M to get fed up with being Hornswoggled and finagle entrée into the SEC, currently delayed by the threat of legal action by fellow Big 12 member Baylor in an amusing riff on Baptist hypocrisy.

So with the Big 12 once again on quicksand, the Texas-Oklahoma quartet – subbing Tech for A&M – started casting about for alternatives, the Sooners in particular.

No one from Oklahoma has been so desperate to get to the coast since the Joads.

But this time it was the Pac-12 CEOs who pulled the plug. At least, that was their call once they got word that Texas, having booted up the Longhorn Network, wasn’t going to equally share its booty with Wazzu any more than it would with Iowa State. Nor did the Oklahomas make any particular financial or logistic logic.

Who would have thought logic would enter into it?

No doubt some Pac-12 schools had reservations about academics and the ever-popular straw man of “student-athlete welfare,” too, but let’s be realistic: If Texas hadn’t been so, well, Texan in its posturing, the Pac-12 logo probably wouldn’t have reached its first birthday.

It’s still a calculated risk, especially if the SEC or Big Ten start inching toward 16 members. But at least the Pac-12 CEOs seem to be among the few nationwide who aren’t reacting out of fear and insecurity – though, of course, their pockets have already been lined by TV. Texas and Oklahoma will now attempt to find yet another shaky peace in a leaky Big 12, probably with Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton as an arbiter – which is borderline hilarious, since the Tigers reportedly have a soft offer to join the SEC on the table.

It was earlier this summer that NCAA president Mark Emmert convened a summit of university CEOs to address the ills of college athletics. Most of them hadn’t reached the departure gate for their flights home before the me-first anarchy of realignment resumed. But these are the men whose vision and integrity are supposed engender reform.

On Tuesday, some leadership and even common sense was located – on one lonely street corner.

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