Mizzou chancellor Brady Deaton, the chairman of the Big 12 board, said Wednesday night that he anticipates clarification of the University of Oklahoma's future alignment intentions within 10 to 14 days but that he remained hopeful the conference could stay viable even if OU — and probably Oklahoma State with it — were to leave.
"I don't want to go too far there, (but) there's a legal basis for the Big 12 to go on and, certainly, I would expect that to continue," he said in a phone interview.
Not that Deaton is expecting Oklahoma to go.
"If things change, we'll try to keep it together and move forward with other members," he said, later adding, "I'm a little more optimistic certainly today than I was maybe a week ago, but that's based on the fact that I think good, careful reasoning and analysis of what's in the best interests of each of our institutions will continue to bind us together as a conference."
In fact, Deaton evidently isn't even fully resigned to the departure of Texas A&M, which only remains stuck in transition to the Southeastern Conference because of Baylor-led legal saber-rattling.
"They're full members of the conference until they are no longer members of the conference," Deaton said.
Even if Deaton didn't say it, it's reasonable to assume the conference is proceeding with plans that don't include A&M. The league already had been reaching out to other schools, including Notre Dame and Arkansas, with no success. Brigham Young is believed to be the next target.
But those plans are in check because of the rumblings out of Norman, where OU president David Boren sent out a shock wave Sept. 2 by announcing Oklahoma was considering other options.
The most obvious is the Pac-12, which made a play for OU and Texas, among others, last year.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said last week he wasn't seeking expansion, but he has hedged his words in other interviews, and some believe the opening is there for Oklahoma.
Various news reports had a delegation of Texas officials visiting OU on Sunday to implore the Sooners to stay, and Deaton said, "My understanding is that that occurred in some form."
It's unknown whether Oklahoma and OSU as a pair would be enough to compel the Pac-12 to expand again, leading to further speculation that other Big 12 schools might make sense as targets if the Pac-12 is so inclined.
But until the OU matter is firmed up, Deaton acknowledged the conference can't pursue repopulating to 10 schools or revisiting discussions to go back to 12.
"We don't want to reach out there too far right now," he said, "(because) we want to make sure we have the building blocks in place and the cement to strengthen where we are today."
OU's board of regents is to meet Monday night, but Deaton said he had no sense of whether the answer would be established then.
"I just have had an understanding that within 10 days to two weeks we were likely to have some indication of where things stood, but with no firm deadlines there," he said. "We're being patient and working together, and certainly right now we're in a little bit of a position where we need for Oklahoma to give us a sense of what they're thinking about and take it from there."
As for Mizzou's stance in the matter, Deaton said he felt there was no complication for him to have a "principle objective" as chair to keep the conference together while also working in MU's best interests.
"They are not inconsistent, as some have suggested, that it's sort of a delicate line. It really isn't," he said, adding that it's understood among board members that each has a primary obligation to his or her own institution.
Deaton acknowledged that the conference must contend with trust issues even if it does hold together.
"It's clear," he said, "that we have work to be done there."