Owens played in the Big Eight Conference and helped steer the University of Oklahoma into a new era with the Big 12 during his stint as athletic director.
So he’s been keeping a keen eye on what’s transpired over the past several days with a league that is unraveling.
Colorado accepted an invitation to join the Pac-10 on Thursday, then Nebraska moved ahead with plans to move to the Big Ten on Friday.
University of Texas regents will meet Tuesday to decide whether the Longhorns will remain in the Big 12 or switch to another conference.
The UT regents announced Friday that they will hold a meeting by telephone Tuesday for “discussion and appropriate action regarding athletic conference membership.”
That’s when the end is expected to come for the Big 12. OU, OSU, Texas and Texas A&M reportedly will head west.
Some reports have OU, A&M or even K-State going to another cash-flush conference, the SEC.
If the Big 12 does come unraveled, Kansas and Kansas State could go to the Mountain West Conference, which added Boise State on Friday.
One report has Kansas being pulled into the Pac-10 if A&M passes.
How would Kansans react to that?
The football teams have been playing since 1902 and the basketball rivalry dates back to 1907.
“It’s tough because you start thinking about the rivalries,” said Owens, the former Miami High School all-stater who won the Heisman Trophy in 1969 as a senior with the Sooners. “You think about Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri. When I played it was the Big 8, then about the time I became athletic director, the Southwest Conference came in and it became the Big 12.”
The inaugural Big 12 football championship game in St. Louis coincided with Owens’ first year as athletic director in 1997.
“I was involved with the new conference after Donnie Duncan left,” he said.
If things completely implode, Iowa State could be left out completely.
“We’d rather not be in this situation,” Iowa State University President Greg Geoffroy told the Ames (Iowa) Tribune on Friday. “We’d rather the Big 12 would have stayed together, and hopefully it will stay together in some form. To us, that’s the best outcome.”
Geoffroy declined to comment on whether ISU had spoken with or received any invitations from other athletic conferences.
“It’s just too premature at the moment,” he told the Tribune.
Kenny Mossman, Oklahoma’s senior associate Athletic Director-Communications, said in an e-mail late Saturday afternoon that "President David Boren and Director of Athletics Joe Castiglione had a very cordial and informative meeting today with Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott and deputy commissioner Kevin Weiberg. It would not be appropriate to comment further on the content of the meeting at this time. There will be a special meeting of OU’s Board of Regents Wednesday afternoon to weigh possible conference options available to the university."
The AP said Oklahoma State AD Mike Holder wants his school to land wherever Texas ends up.
Missouri, which had been angling for a Big Ten invitation, remains committed to the Big 12.
“The Big Ten is looking at Missouri because of the academics,” said Northeastern A&M assistant coach Rich Lillard, who went to Mizzou in the1990s.
“That is a strength the Big 10 is looking for.”
“Everybody wants Oklahoma because of its tradition and draw,” Owens said. “If the Big 12 goes away, then the Pac-10 would be a good option.”
From a media standpoint, a move to the Pac-10 might not be such a good fit because when Oklahoma or Oklahoma State play in Los Angeles or up in Oregon or Washington —two time zones away — games won’t conclude until after the print deadlines for most major papers.
Sure, the Internet can provide game information and more, but not everyone has access to the World Wide Web.
Will fans stay up to watch a game that won’t finish until way after bedtime?
And you can’t get to most Pac-10 locales without plopping down cash for costly plane fares.
The way it is now in the Big 12, fans can drive to most games.
Money is the driving issue behind all of the movement.
With a 16-team conference that stretches from Texas to Colorado to Washington to California, seven of the top 16 television markets in the nation (and six of the top 13) would be covered by the conference.
One wedge that helped influence Nebraska’s decision reportedly was the fact that Texas — had the Big 12 remained intact — wanted to launch its own TV network.
“It’s a sign of the times,” Owens said. “The fact is, schools have to look at the revenues. If you look at the Big 10 and the Pac-10, their TV contracts are so much more lucrative than the Big 12 at this point. People are looking at their budgets and how they can generate more revenue.”
The AP reported Friday that Nebraska received about $10 million from the Big 12 in 2009, half the $20 million received by Big Ten members (thanks largely to bigger television contracts and the in-house Big Ten Network).
SEC schools received $17.3 million each this year from their revenue-sharing plan.
Owens said the Sooners played on national television twice during his senior season — a national telecast against Nebraska and a regionally televised game with Missouri.
By comparison, every Oklahoma game in 2009 was on TV, either by ABC, ESPN, Fox Sports Net, CBS or pay per view — and OU is working on a string of having 98 consecutive televised games.