For at least a few hours Wednesday, Baylor University felt what it was like to be king of the conference.
Less than 12 hours after learning that Texas A&M had received enough support from the SEC to leave the Big 12, Baylor spearheaded a strong campaign among the nine remaining Big 12 schools to block the Aggies’ exit. According to reports, only Oklahoma, which has expressed interest in bolting for the Pac-12, was willing to waive its right to take legal action against the SEC for poaching A&M. Initially, it looked as if Baylor would represent the Aggies’ only roadblock to freedom, but, as the day went on, the movement garnered more support. First, Iowa State came out in full support of a lawsuit should A&M leave. A little while later, many were reporting that the rest of the league had followed suit. That included Kansas University, which, through a statement from Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little’s office, stood firmly in Baylor and Iowa State’s corner, though in a more neutral tone.
“We are not planning litigation,” the statement said. “But we have not waived our legal rights in this matter.”
Sources close to Kansas said throughout the day that Gray-Little and athletic director Sheahon Zenger remained steadfast in their belief that the Big 12 was the best place for KU to end up. Still, it’s clear that KU’s leaders are considering all of their options.
When Wednesday began, it seemed as if the Big 12 was closer than ever to becoming extinct. A letter from Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe to SEC boss Mike Slive, dated Sept. 2, that surfaced early Wednesday, revealed that Beebe, on behalf of the Big 12, had signed off on A&M’s move to the SEC. However, once the rest of the league began its attempt to block the move, another Beebe letter surfaced, this one an email sent to Slive late Tuesday, that essentially said Beebe’s previous letter only spoke for the league and not the individual members. Although that seemed to be splitting hairs, the difference had enough weight to delay A&M’s move and sent Aggies officials into a frenzy.
“We are being held hostage right now,” A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said of being forced to stay in the Big 12. “Essentially, we’re being told that you must stay here against your will, and we think that really flies in the face of what makes us Americans and makes us free people.”
Baylor officials also made claims earlier in the day that they believed the Bears were being held hostage.
An official move by A&M to the SEC, which still may come and could be announced as soon as today, likely would’ve sent the dominoes tumbling and signified the beginning of the end of the Big 12. In the race to keep up with the constantly changing landscape, schools like Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri would have faced decisions that could’ve buried the Big 12. Now, A&M’s future appears to be as unsettled as the Big 12’s, and the 15-year old league is clinging to hope.
As Texas, which seems to have put the controversial Longhorn Network on the back burner for now, continues to fight for the Big 12, all eyes shift to Oklahoma, which, sources say, is divided on whether to move to the Pac-12 or stick with the Big 12.
If the Big 12 survives, it seems that talk would turn quickly to which schools the conference would explore adding in an effort to get back to 10 or even 12 schools. Arkansas AD Jeff Long told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the Big 12 recently contacted the SEC school about expansion but added that the talks did not get very far. One league source said that BYU now stands as the Big 12’s first choice.