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Missouri committed to Big 12; OK State hopes to stay with Texas

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The Big 12 could be no more very soon.

With Nebraska expected to formally announce its move to the Big Ten on Friday, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are waiting could subsequently be headed west to the Pac-10, according to a report by orangebloods.com.

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In the meantime, officials at Missouri said Friday they remain committed to the Big 12.

For now, anyway.

"We have obligations to our Big 12 Conference, first and foremost," said Missouri system president Gary Forsee. But he added that conference realignment is "a nine-inning game" - and it's still the first inning.

Forsee spoke to a roomful of reporters while Missouri curators met behind closed doors for the third time in two days.

Among the topics in the closed session: gauging the impact of fellow Big 12 North division member Colorado's defection to the Pac-10 and deciding whether Missouri remains a viable candidate for inclusion in an expanded Big Ten if Nebraska joins as expected.

The departure of those two schools could be just the start of the Big 12's ultimate unraveling as the Pac-10 considers inviting as many as five of the six Big 12 South members and the Big Ten mulls its own expansion to 14, or even 16 teams.

That would leave Missouri joining Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State on the sidelines, waiting for offers from other, less prestigious conferences.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Big 12, Forsee and other Missouri leaders again offered strong statements of support for the Big 12, similar to comments made Thursday at the curators' meeting.

"We are trying to be patient," said board chairwoman Judy Haggard. "We are committed to the Big 12 at this time."

The Big Ten announced late last year it was considering adding at least one school, and possibly more, to add a league championship game in football and broaden the reach of its cable television network.

That move set off a wave of jockeying by other schools and conferences, with Missouri considered among the top Big Ten prospects thanks to its geographic proximity, academic profile and existing rivalry with conference member Illinois.

Forsee declined to discuss what he called "speculation" about Nebraska's supposed move and its impact on the Big 12, which was created in 1996 when the Big Eight added four Texas schools.

So has Missouri athletics director Mike Alden, who met with curators in Friday's closed session. Alden has previously emphasized the school's commitment to its conference while also expressing his desire for more equitable revenue-sharing when it comes to TV revenue - a problem that would be solved by a move to the Big Ten, which divides its booty equally among its 11 members.

Meanwhile, when Big 12 teams are done shuffling, Oklahoma State officials are hopeful they'll still be united with national powerhouse Texas.

Colorado became the first Big 12 team to leave when it decided Thursday to join the Pac-10 Conference. Oklahoma State is one of five other Big 12 teams that may also head to the Pac-10, but the key factor appears to be what the Longhorns do.

In an e-mail to University of Texas system regent Robert L. Stillwell last week, OSU athletic director Mike Holder wrote: "We just want to be with Texas when the dust settles!"

Stillwell is linked to Oklahoma State through longtime associate T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire alumnus who has donated millions of dollars to both schools.

Pickens provided the lion's share of the funding for a $286 million overhaul to the Cowboys' football stadium, including new weight rooms and luxury suites. He also promised $100 million to two University of Texas medical centers in 2007, with the caveat that they must grow the donation to $500 million in 25 years or else send any interest on the initial gift to OSU.

"We've certainly invested heavily to be competitive in the conference," university president Burns Hargis said. "But if all of this noise turns out to be real, I think we have options thanks to the investments we've made at OSU."

Pickens is not mentioned by name in any of the e-mail exchanges released to The Associated Press on Friday after an open records request. Another e-mail from Holder to Stillwell last week states: "Looks like Texas may be headed to Pac-10. ... Just lucky that OSU will get to join you if push comes to shove. Pays to have friends!"

The e-mails confirm the school's public stance that it has preferred to keep the Big 12 together, including Holder encouraging conference commissioner Dan Beebe to force schools such as Nebraska and Missouri to confirm their commitment to the league.

But they also show the school is examining its options.

One message from Holder to Hargis during last week's Big 12 meetings included particularly mixed messages. Just two sentences after he encourages Hargis to get Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman "in the fold," he suggests that Perlman should "commit to (the) Big 12 now or he is in the Big 6 hoping for a call from (Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany)."

That passage would suggest six teams would be leaving the conference - perhaps for the Pac-10 - even if Nebraska stuck around.

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