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Barfknecht: During realignment, four others from Big 12 took a look at Big Ten switch

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Big Ten football fans, see if the following slate of conference games would interest you:

Oklahoma vs. Wisconsin; Nebraska vs. Texas A&M; Iowa vs. Iowa State; Minnesota vs. Kansas.

Unfortunately, it’s not happening. But there was a time when grouping those eight schools into one division of a 16-team Big Ten was discussed at high administrative levels by members of both leagues.

Five summers ago, Texas rattled the Big 12 to its core by threatening to bolt to what then was the Pac-10, with five other league members trailing along.

Some Big 12 schools involved wanted no part of such a move or the travel associated with it and began exploring other options. I first heard of this at the time and again two years ago, but it wasn’t until last week’s Big 12 media days that I found a second source with direct knowledge to confirm it.

Was this a concrete proposal for realignment? No.

But it was much, much more than cocktail-napkin speculation.

A Big 12 athletic director, who spoke to The World-Herald on condition of anonymity, said he contacted Big Ten athletic directors and presidents with whom he was familiar in June 2010.

The topic: Was the Big Ten, which had 11 members at the time, interested in adding five Big 12 schools?

The feedback from Big Ten school officials was positive, both sources said. The sticking point was devising a revenue-sharing plan to satisfy all. It would have taken at least three to four years for that many incoming schools to hit the financial payoffs sought for moving.

As we know, two Big 12 schools at the time decided not to wait. In June 2010, Nebraska joined the Big Ten and Colorado signed up with what became the Pac-12. Texas A&M and Missouri left a year later.

All this is more proof that the conference realignment wheel never stops spinning.

Sometimes, it just goes faster, as late last month when Oklahoma President David Boren called the Big 12 “psychologically disadvantaged’’ for having the smallest number of members (10) among Power Five conferences. He said the league should “strive’’ to get back to 12.

Boren’s remarks were the talk of the hallways at Big 12 media days. The parlor game became trying to guess what his motive was for going public.

Does Boren really want 12 members, even though no qualified candidates come to mind? Was he signaling to another league that Oklahoma might listen to an invitation? Or was it a diversionary tactic to change the conversation at OU away from campus issues such as the fraternity-racism flap and the domestic-violence case involving Sooner running back Joe Mixon?

Several veteran Big 12 media members said their money is on the league not lasting another decade.

The tension, for some, is high.

A Big 12 administrator, in the middle of the main hallway, chastised me for my column last Monday about how Nebraska would never return to the Big 12. Too much drama, I wrote, and not enough stability.

He chewed me for making his conference sound “dysfunctional.’’ If reporting facts about repeated Big 12 missteps leads to that conclusion, then call me guilty.

It would be nice to know what self-proclaimed Big 12 kingpin Texas thinks of all this.

But the Longhorns are busy trying to put out their own fires, most of which Athletic Director Steve Patterson has ignited in less than two years on the job.

UT’s new president, Greg Fenves, according to reports in Dallas and Austin newspapers, has told Patterson that he needs to change his personal dealings with donors and become more personable.

An investigative story from Horns Digest detailed incidents of Patterson’s money-first moves, treating fans like corporate customers rather than people invested emotionally in the program. For Nebraska fans, the best comparison I can make is an ex-Husker A.D. with the first name Steve and the last initial P who barged in aloof and tone-deaf.

Patterson mostly got praise for his coaching choices of Charlie Strong in football and Shaka Smart in basketball. But a wise man from Austin with deep ties to Texas athletics distilled the current situation for me in two sentences:

“Charlie Strong is a nice man who is a little overmatched. Steve Patterson is not a very nice man, and he is way overmatched.’’

Of course, when million-dollar employees screw up, a scapegoat must go. Texas ousted 23-year media relations chief John Bianco, an absolute pro’s pro who is nationally respected and deserved far better.

Patterson’s behavior carries the distinct stench of how Dave Brandon operated as athletic director at Michigan for four years before resigning under fire last October. Brandon is back where profits and operating efficiency are celebrated over everything else — private business as the CEO of Toys R Us. (Insert own joke here).

So, Nebraska fans, now you’re caught up on what’s happening in the Big 12. Not much has changed, eh?

If the predictions come true that the clock is ticking on the Big 12 sticking together, remember what we previously reported from two sources at Nebraska — the Big Ten has done its “homework’’ to evaluate Oklahoma and Kansas as potential members.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1024, lee.barfknecht@owh.com, twitter.com/leebeeowh

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