Oklahoma debating conference options

NORMAN, Okla. -- University of Oklahoma president David Boren says multiple conferences have shown interest in the Sooners recently and he expects to decide whether to leave the Big 12 or not within the next three weeks.

Boren said Friday that Oklahoma is seeking stability in its conference relationship with "partners that are both outstanding athletically and academically as well because a conference that's strong is not only stable but it's one in which there are multiple relationships, along with sports, between the university members."

He said he tried to prevent Texas A&M from leaving the Big 12 and was disappointed the Aggies announced this week they would seek to join another conference -- most likely the SEC -- by next July.

"Of course, we have some great partners in the existing Big 12. We have interest from other conferences and other universities, so it's really a tribute to the strength of our program at the University of Oklahoma that there is so much interest in us," Boren said.

"So, we have to carefully evaluate the various comments that are being made to us and the various possibilities that are being shown to us before we decide what's best for the university to do."

Athletic director Joe Castiglione, who attended a ceremony with Boren to celebrate a $10 million donation toward a campus dormitory, said he was "not here to answer any of those kind of questions." Castiglione has not commented publicly on Texas A&M's departure from the league, nor on Oklahoma's future plans.

Boren said he and Castiglione have been heavily involved in talks about the future of the Sooners and the Big 12.

Oklahoma was offered chances to join both the Pac-10 and the SEC last year but decided to stick with the Big 12, even as Nebraska left to join the Big Ten and Colorado joined the Pac-10. A&M's departure would drop the league that once had 12 teams down to nine members.

"I don't think there's anything that has to be, at all, and everything doesn't have to be done today. I mean, there's nothing that says the conference will collapse at nine," Boren said. "We have a full season to play and we'll have to go through.

"Obviously, I think if we could eventually -- and that doesn't mean in one year, maybe it's going to take two or three years -- if we were to eventually get back to 12, I would feel better about it."

Boren said the bottom line is "I don't think OU is going to be a wallflower when all is said and done."

Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said Saturday that Boren's comments were eyebrow-raising, given what Missouri thought was a conference-wide belief in the future of the Big 12.

"It's somewhat surprising that comment came out because I know everybody's been working together," Alden said. "You put
something like that out there and it just reinforces that image of being unstable."

Boren confirmed that he flew to Missouri, whose chancellor is the chairman of the Big 12 board of directors, and then to College Station last week to try to prevent the Aggies from leaving. He said he's disappointed that he thought the Sooners had conference stability and instead face the same challenge as last summer.

"We don't know what's going to happen. Some things are trends beyond the control of any one university," Boren said. "Is there going to be a continued trend toward consolidation? Are we going to see conferences that are now 12 ... move to 16? Is that going to happen? Maybe that's not going to happen.

"You've seen both. You've seen a tendency toward consolidation and then you've seen some pushback in the very largest conferences from schools that say, 'Not too big.' We're trying to sort all that out. At this point in time, I'm being very honest with you, I do not know with certainty or perhaps even can't hazard a totally intelligent guess as to what our final decision will be. But we are carefully looking over all of the options. There is no school in the Big 12 more active than we are right now."

A source with direct knowledge of Oklahoma's situation told ESPN.com, "Splitting with Oklahoma State would be challenging politically and not necessarily desirable but not impossible if it meant protecting the long-term best interests of Oklahoma."

The source added that in what seemed to be a contrast to the Texas-Texas AM rift, "there is not the bad blood between the two rivals (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) as there is in some situations."

On Saturday, a statement from Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis addressed the turbulent situation.

"We want to be clear that we worked actively to encourage Texas A&M to remain in the Big 12 Conference and regret they decided to leave. We are moving ahead," Hargis said. "We are in close communications with our colleagues at the University of Oklahoma and expect a decision soon that will be in the best interest of our institutions and the state of Oklahoma."

Information from SoonerNation writer Jake Trotter, ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.