By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
A league of extraordinary administrators - from in and round the Big 12 Conference to around the country - banded together to help the 14-year-old league survive.
As the week started Monday, myriad media reports said that the Big 12 could not survive the departure of Colorado (to the Pacific-10 Conference) and Nebraska (to the Big Ten Conference) along with further entreaties from the Pac-10.
But by Monday afternoon, the Big 12 announced that it would survive and advance as a 10-team conference. Tuesday morning, Texas officials held a news conference to affirm their stance. Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe held a teleconference later in the morning and also answered questions at a news conference at the Big 12's headquarters.
A vase of flowers from the Big East Conference decorated the office entrance. The card attached had one word: "Unity."
"There were lots of people around the country wanting the Big 12 to stay together as a 10-team conference," Beebe said. "I'm grateful for their help and support. We've landed in a good place, not just for the Big 12, but for all collegiate athletics, in my opinion."
By going forward as a 10-team conference, the Big 12 helped prevent what some observers believed would be Armageddon for college sports. The dominoes could have tipped to create a 16-team Pac-10, a 16-team Big Ten and probably a 16-team Southeastern Conference. The Big 12, the Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference would all have been at risk.
Instead, the latest round of conference shifting is minimal. In addition to Colorado and Nebraska, the only other announced move is Boise State from the Western Athletic to the Mountain West (the Pac-10 could invite Utah to become its 12th member).
The promise of increased television revenue along with the idea of maintaining rivalries and geographic ties between schools were among the key factors in holding together the Big 12's 10 schools. Beebe said the chances of adding two schools are "very, very remote."
The Big 12's contract with Fox Sports Net (FSN) runs through 2011-12 season. The Conference's deal with ABC/ESPN is through 2015-16. The Big 12 will work out a new deal with FSN that will allow the conference to sync up its television deals to run concurrently.
"We've been hampered by staggered television contracts that were signed before I came on board," Beebe said. "At the time those were negotiated, it was deemed a good situation for the conference. That's not been beneficial recently.
"As far as the future, we have received extremely strong verification, based on our analysis with our consultants and others, and media companies themselves, that we are in a tremendous position to execute future agreements that will put our member institutions on par with any in the country."
Increased revenue for the Conference could start flowing as soon as the Big 12 works out a new deal with FSN. Also, competition within the market place could increase even the current rosy projections. By the time the Conference puts all its TV agreements in place, it's expected that the revenue will make the Big 12 on par with the top revenue-producing conferences.
"The Big 12 (television) package is going to be every bit as good as any other conference," Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said during his schools news conference. "We are in good shape on the television side."
The Big 12 also received word from ABC/ESPN that despite the departure of Colorado and Nebraska, the Conference's rights fees won't be reduced during the life of the contract. That means the same money divided 10 ways instead of 12.
Five schools that were facing uncertain conference futures - Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor - made a good-faith offer to Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. The five have agreed to use their shares of the money Colorado and Nebraska will owe for leaving the Big 12, if necessary, to ensure a certain level of revenue distribution. That money, which will be revenue withheld from the two schools, could wind up totaling $35 to $40 million.
However, based on revenue projections from future media rights, such compensation likely will be unnecessary. Contrary to some reports, this use of revenue of those five institutions does not affect the revenue distribution formula or the amounts that would be distributed to the other institutions, therefore negating the need for it to be offered. All liquidated damage fees withheld from Colorado and Nebraska will be evenly shared by the 10 remaining members.
Texas president William Powers said Tuesday morning that his school was not part of any deal regarding the withheld revenue money, hadn't heard about such a deal and was "not part of our consideration" to stay. We oppose that kind of deal." Powers said that revenue should be distributed according to Big 12 distribution bylaws.
The commitment by Texas was considered the key to the Big 12's viability as a 10-team conference.
"There's a very strong future in the new 10-team Big 12," Powers said. "We've made a long-term decision and all the factors were considered. This is a long-term and unequivocal commitment. We've decided the Big 12 provides the best long-term opportunity for our university."
Moving forward as a 10-team conference raises questions: How will the football and basketball schedules be structured? How will the format of the men's and women's basketball tournaments change? Will the Conference change its name?
Beebe said those questions will start to be answered over the next months. Colorado has indicated it might move up its departure timetable and like Nebraska could join their new conferences starting in 2011-12. That means decisions regarding football scheduling will need to be made by the end of 2010 at the latest.
Despite unequivocal commitments from its 10 schools, there remains skepticism regarding the Big 12's future.
"I'm very, very comfortable with where we're at," Beebe said. "I understand there's always a lot of excitement to see where the ambulance is going. Hope those that have the responsibility of reporting and writing about this are going to understand how positive this is.
"Any exercise like this results in bruises and we have to heal. But I think going through all this has resulted in a higher level of understanding to how much we need each other."