Big 12, Big East start picking up pieces
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Turned away by the Pac-12, the Big 12's most powerful members are trying to find ways to live together again after weeks of hurtling toward a break up.
Texas President William Powers declared Wednesday that the Longhorns — who receive more media money than other members of the Big 12 — are open to a new revenue-sharing model and have already suggested that top-level television and cable money be shared equally.
What's not on the table is the money from Texas' 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN to create the Longhorn Network, which has been blamed in large part for Texas A&M's pending departure from the Big 12.
"That's never been in play, that's not in play," Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said.
So with that line drawn in the sand, the Big 12 leadership has scheduled a key meeting Thursday, Oklahoma President David Boren said.
"The most important goal for the University of Oklahoma is conference stability," he said. "We intend to support actions that will strengthen and stabilize the conference at the very important meeting of the conference board."
The Pac-12 late Tuesday squashed any hope of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech heading west in what surely would have been a death blow to the Big 12.
But the conference realignment wheels are still turning, especially with the Aggies planning to join the Southeastern Conference as soon as legal threats are out of the way.
"Certainly the position of Oklahoma State and I think most of the schools, if not all, is that we want to add a 10th team," said Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis, a member of the league's expansion committee. He listed TCU, Houston, SMU, BYU, Utah and Air Force among the potential expansion targets before saying "we've talked about a lot of ideas."
The Big East, left with only six football members after Pitt and Syracuse announced plans to join the ACC, must also find a new way forward while the Mountain West and Conference USA are in discussions about a partnership.
The talk of saving the Big 12 centers on sharing television revenue equally — a core principle of the Big Ten and Pac-12. The Big 12 splits the revenue from its $1.2 billion Fox Sports contract evenly, but only half of the money from its top-tier deal with ABC goes into equal shares. The rest is weighted toward the programs that play on the network more frequently, such as Texas and Oklahoma.
Dodds said Big 12 athletic directors more than a month ago approved Texas' suggestion to equally share to network revenue around the league. He said the plan has not been voted on by league presidents.
Texas Tech president Guy Bailey said he doesn't anticipate much opposition to that idea. "I would be surprised if there weren't a change in that, in some way," he said. Now, how exactly it plays out, I don't know."
Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe has not commented on the turmoil surrounding the league and there is speculation about his future. The Kansas City Star, citing two sources with knowledge of the decision, reported Wednesday night that Beebe was working on an agreement to leave his position and that an announcement of Beebe's departure was expected Thursday.
Beebe's contract was extended in November through June 2015, a decision made after Nebraska and Colorado announced they were leaving the Big 12 and before the 13-year deal was reached with Fox Sports in April.
Dodds declined comment, and Bailey and Hargis called Beebe's status a private "personnel" matter.
Besides Thursday's meeting of the Big 12 conference board, a summit also is possible between Texas and Oklahoma officials. Big 12 athletic directors also have a previously scheduled meeting in Dallas next week.
ESPN distanced itself from the conference affiliation uproar, saying the "driving force on realignment lies with the conferences and universities."
Still, the Longhorn Network created uncertainty in the Big 12 and Texas A&M said it was a big reason why the Aggies will leave the Big 12 by July — a decision that stands, the school said Wednesday.
Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne earlier this month said the Big 12's revenue-sharing plan lends itself to instability. The Huskers is in its first season as a member of the Big Ten, where each school received $22.6 million this year — about twice as much as Nebraska could have expected if it had stayed in the Big 12.
Texas' Powers said revenue sharing will be subject to discussion in coming days.
"A lot of these issues that you hear (about) whether it's revenue sharing or whatever, we've been working on long before," he said. "We will continue to work on those. I'm not going to prejudge on how those will come out. There are not any preconditions for the conference coming back together.
"We want a stable, workable conference going forward," Powers said.
Once the Aggies leave, the Big 12 will have nine members unless a replacement — or replacements — are found. Only SMU has gone public with its interest in joining the Big 12.
"It's about quality, not quantity," Dodds said. "In my mind, 10 is the perfect conference. You have a clear path to the national championship game without stumbling in a (conference) championship game."
There was still activity around the Big 12 on Wednesday. Oklahoma State's regents gave school Hargis the power to depart the Big 12 if necessary while regents in Kansas reiterated their support for staying in the Big 12. Regents in Missouri are scheduled to meet Thursday.
Hargis said the decision to give him authority over a league change was important even after the Pac-12 was taken off the table as a potential destination because "there are a lot of moving parts here and we may have to make decisions fast." He said his first priority is stabilizing the Big 12.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said he was optimistic that the Big 12 would remain intact, stabilize and add members.
Elsewhere, former Big Eight Commissioner Chuck Neinas, a high-profile consultant for sports leagues and coaches, said he has been working on a partnership with the Mountain West and Conference USA in which they would merge as football playing programs into east and west divisions, spanning four time zones.
East Carolina of Conference USA announced Wednesday that it has applied for membership in the Big East, where members are trying to rebuild after Syracuse and Pittsburgh accepted invitations to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Navy and Air Force are the top choices as football-only members, according to a person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the conference does not want to publicly disclose its plans.
Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said Syracuse and Pittsburgh won't be allowed to leave until the 2014-15 academic year and he expects TCU to join in 2012 as agreed.
AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins and Ralph Russo, AP Writers Betsy Blaney and John Milburn, and freelance writer Doug Tucker contributed to this report.
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