Oregon State president Edward Ray said he would personally take look at anything that made sense, even though there was a strong sentiment among the Pac-12 schools that expansion wasn't in the league's immediate best interests.
"You know, it's like politics where you say 'Never say never,'" Ray said when asked if the Pac-12's decision this week to stand pat meant it wouldn't consider taking on new members at some point. "I don't know. But I do know I could not speak for others. I'm an economist, so it's always like, 'So, what are we talking about here?' That's the devil in me.
"But I know that some of my colleagues said 'You know what? I don't care what any of the facts are, I don't want anything to change.'"
Ray is the chair of the Pac-12 CEO Executive Group, which includes leaders from each of the league's schools and is responsible for governance of the conference.
The Pac-10 joined in on conference reshuffling last year when Commissioner Larry Scott brought in Colorado from the Big 12 and Utah from the Mountain West. The league, which became the Pac-12, then signed a new TV deal worth about $3 billion with Fox and ESPN, and launched plans for its own network next year.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ray talked about the decision-making process in the Pac-12's announcement earlier this week that it would not add members.
Ray said the decision not to expand came during a conference call with representatives from the member schools. Scott, charged with "reconnaissance" as Ray called it, had presented various proposals. In the end,no formal votes were taken, because it was unnecessary.
"It was clear that the sense of the conversation was, 'You know what? We're good,'" Ray said.
The Pac-12 essentially had three criteria when it considered expansion: All schools would have to remain on equal footing, it would have to make financial sense, and it could not diminish the conference's academic brand.
"We all care a lot about how we're perceived in all parts of the world, not just the athletic world, in terms of our academic interests and capabilities," Ray said.
A superconference of 16 teams had been discussed by the league's schools last year, when the Big 12 lost Nebraska and Colorado and its other programs were looking at their options. But Texas decided stay, and it appeared the situation was static until Texas A&M announced earlier this month it will leave in 2012 to seek membership in the Southeastern Conference.
That sparked a new round of maneuvering that included talk that the Pac-12 might soon become the Pac-16.
There were questions raised about how Texas and its lucrative Longhorn Network would fit in to the Pac-12 revenue-sharing model. Part of the reason Texas remained in the Big 12 was the opportunity for its own television network with ESPN, a $300 million, 20-year deal.
There was also speculation, voiced by Colorado president Bruce Benson earlier this month, that expansion could drag at the Pac-12's academic reputation. The Oklahoma schools are not members of the Association of American Universities, a group of leading research schools.
Ray could not address on the record the schools that showed interest in joining the Pac-12, or if decisions were made based on specific institutions.
But he did say that expansion likely would have benefited the league financially, dispelling talk that the deal was scuttled because the existing schools did not want to diminish their take of the financial windfall that will come with the league's television deal. At Oregon State, the athletic department is expected to eventually become self-sufficient because of it, Ray said.
"We think that if we had expanded every existing member would have made more money, so there was money possible on the table to be had if we'd done that," he said. "It was really interesting, we had this great conversation, and it was 'We like who we are. We like the people we know and we work with, we think we've got real chemistry in this conference. We're all really excited about what we think is going to happen with these new networks, we're excited about the deal we have with ESPN-Fox.
"We're OK where we are.'"