Big 12 expansion, network will take 'unified action,' OU president says

NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma president David Boren said Thursday it will take a consensus from the Big 12 for the league to move forward on pursuing a conference network and expansion, both of which Boren has been championing since last summer.

"It's going to take a unified action by the conference," Boren told reporters after Oklahoma's regents meeting. "This is the kind of decision that has to be reached by consensus. It's not the kind of decision where we can say it was 8-2 or something. Consensus will be formed, or it won't.

"And the consensus could be we do nothing."

Boren has been the biggest driver behind putting Big 12 expansion back on the table, in the past calling the league "psychologically disadvantaged" for having only 10 teams and no conference network or conference championship game.

The Big 12 has since hired a pair of consulting firms to examine whether a conference network could be viable and whether expansion could make sense for the league. Both firms are expected to give presentations to the conference presidents and chancellors later this month in Irving, Texas. Navigate Research has already concluded that the Big 12 would have a better path to the College Football Playoff by expanding.

"My hunch is that a Big 12 network might be very advantageous to the entire conference," said Boren, who recently took over as the Big 12 board chair. "But my hunch might be wrong."

One of the obstacles standing in the way of the Big 12 forming a conference network is the Longhorn Network, which currently pays Texas an average of $15 million a year. ESPN operates and partially owns the Longhorn Network.

Boren said that while he wants Texas to give up the Longhorn Network to create a Big 12 network, he doesn't want to do so at the expense of Texas' lucrative third-tier revenue stream.

"I'm not out to get Texas. If we did something, you've got to make Texas financially whole. You can't expect them to give up $15 million ... unless [they're] compensated for that. Somehow, the conference has to get that $15 million back to them," Boren said. "You've got to devise a revenue distribution that lets them get paid back for the $15 million a year they're giving out. My suspicion is if the revenue figures [that] come out are very high or moderately high, you can afford to make everybody whole and everybody makes money. They'd be making more money than $15 million a year, if it's so advantageous to us financially to create a network. But we don't know the answer to that question yet."

Boren said a conference network could push expansion, to give the conference more content options and TV market possibilities. Boren also said he has heard from roughly 25 schools about joining the Big 12. In fact, this week, ESPN.com reported that FedEx, based out of Memphis, pledged to sponsor a Big 12 championship game if the league chose to invite the University of Memphis to join.

"I personally don't have any [expansion] candidates," Boren said. "But they would have to be financially additive."

Other presidents in the Big 12 might not be the only ones Boren will have to convince that expansion and a conference network are the right moves for the conference.

Just this week, Oklahoma regent chairman Max Weitzenhoffer said he opposes Big 12 expansion, although he later sent a statement through the school that Boren still has his confidence "to lead the university in the right direction."

Neither Boren nor Weitzenhoffer addressed the public disagreement during the regents meeting. But Boren said afterward that he wouldn't vote against the wishes of the regents.

Boren said he didn't think the Big 12 would be ready to cast votes on whether to pursue expansion or a Big 12 network at the next meeting, but he is hopeful the league will be ready before the end of the year.

"I love to do things quickly, I try to be decisive," Boren said. "But there are times when you have to say, let's gather all the information."