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Oklahoma confused by Big 12 Network talk

By Jeff Latzke

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 26 2011 8:50 p.m. MDT

LAWTON, Okla. — Oklahoma officials say they don't understand how a proposed Big 12 Network could work considering that Texas already has an independent channel and the Sooners are working on one of their own.

University president David Boren told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Oklahoma still plans to form its own network and that he was surprised the Big 12 went public with the consideration of a conference network. The same third-tier television rights control what would be aired on either a school's channel or a conference channel.

Oklahoma intends to keep those rights — just as Texas has in creating its Longhorn Network through a 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN.

So how could the Big 12 form a network without its two most powerful programs?

"I don't know because I don't see quite how the conference network would work," Boren told the AP. "I'm confused by that myself."

Athletic director Joe Castiglione said he, too, was caught off-guard when the Big 12 announced Monday that there were discussions by the league's board of directors about creating a "conference dedicated TV network."

"I really don't have the information to support why they made that statement," Castiglione said, noting that athletic directors weren't part of the board meeting. "It has not been broached, or at least not recently."

"Maybe they're trying to build a consensus or excitement and anticipation," he added. "I don't know."

If recent developments in the Big 12 have shown anything, it's that the conference — which has had its membership in flux for the past year and a half — still seems to be in a state of confusion.

A U.S. senator from West Virginia issued a statement Wednesday suggesting an investigation might be necessary after the Mountaineers believed they had been extended an invitation to join the Big 12, only to find out that wasn't the case and Louisville might instead be targeted.

Even internally, there seem to be some mixed signals in the league.

"My understanding is that schools that have their own network, such as the Longhorn Network, that would continue to exist and that the other schools would just bundle their third-tier rights collectively and form their own channel representing multiple institutions," league spokesman Bob Burda said.

Many of the league's schools, including Oklahoma, already air their third-tier programming on the Internet or on television — just not on a network dedicated solely to one school. That includes games from football, men's basketball and other sports that aren't picked up through the league's contracts with ABC/ESPN or Fox Sports.

"Well, a conference network is to offset the Longhorn Network. But I saw the Sooners, I saw where they said they'd do their own network," Oklahoma State booster T. Boone Pickens said.

"I don't know how this thing is going to turn out."

Boren said that Big 12 schools are in the process this week of signing and sending in their agreements to provide the conference their grant of television rights — a move that would allow the league to keep a school's television revenue even if it leaves for another conference.

Boren refused to comment on the reports surrounding West Virginia and Louisville, including ones that linked him to conversations with Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Pickens said he had a "long conversation" with McConnell on Wednesday morning, discussing his natural gas-oriented energy plan. He also said he'd have to "be convinced on West Virginia" as a potential new member of the conference.

"To me, you go out of here to West Virginia, you're going to go a long way," Pickens said. "I didn't like the Pac-10 for that reason. That's the only reason. I feel like the Pac-10 you were going to end up in the east division and play the same schools you played before, so why not just hold the 12 together?

"I still believe we can save the Big 12, but I still say that Texas is going to have to look like the rest of us in the Big 12 instead of looking like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I don't like that."

Pickens said the key is equal revenue sharing.

"Just get the same contract for everybody. Everybody's equal," Pickens said. "If you'd have had that, you wouldn't have lost the (Texas A&M) Aggies, you wouldn't have lost Nebraska and Colorado and it looks like Missouri's going. But it's because things are not equal is what it is."

Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis said he still hopes Missouri won't leave for the Southeastern Conference, but that feeling is dwindling.

"Honestly, I don't have a lot of confidence," Hargis told the AP. "I think it's gone on long enough that it'd be tough. But if they stay, that's great. If they leave, we'll figure something out. There's no shortage of teams interested in being in the Big 12."

Neither Hargis nor Boren would comment specifically on the West Virginia situation, except to say that the Big 12 has options. Boren steered around a question about a Kansas City Star report suggesting Texas supported West Virginia as a new Big 12 member while Oklahoma wanted Louisville.

"I can't confirm the accuracy or inaccuracy of that report. All I'd say is Texas and Oklahoma are working very well together right now," Boren said. "You can draw your conclusions from that.

"I know of no differences of opinion we have on any subject without saying who's for who and what's for what, but we're working very well together right now. All the members of the board are. So, we're just trying to sort it out."

One thing is certain: Hargis said if Missouri does leave, "we'll definitely replace them."

"I think we'd probably initially do 10 (members)," said Hargis, who is chairman of the Big 12 board of directors and sits on the expansion committee. "But that doesn't mean we won't go to 12."

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