Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Big 12 prepares for calmer annual meeting
By ESPN.com staff
A year ago this week, the Big 12 looked like it was fighting a futile battle for its life.
The Big Ten's expansion exploration found Nebraska and Missouri with open ears and the Pac-10 was peering in Colorado's direction.
Midway through Big 12 meetings last June, a report surfaced that Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott was hoping to usurp the Big 12 South -- likely minus Baylor -- and create the Pac-16.
Kansas State, Kansas and Iowa State hoped for the best. Baylor and Missouri joined them days later after Colorado joined the Pac-12 and Nebraska joined the Big Ten.
This time around, as the league's meetings begin on Tuesday morning, it's a decidedly different tone.
Ten Big 12 teams issued "unequivocal" commitments to the conference last summer, highlighted by Texas, which stayed in the conference amidst promises of big money to come from its own television network (one the Pac-16 wouldn't allow) and increased money from the Big 12.
Texas A&M's decision-makers declined a reported invitation to the SEC, despite strong fan support favoring the move.
Commissioner Dan Beebe delivered this spring and cemented those commitments by signing a billion-dollar secondary TV rights deal with Fox Sports worth 350 percent of what the current deal paid, with primary television rights up for renewal in 2014.
But while the Big 12 moves forward this offseason, it does it together, a prospect that looked doubtful last June.
"It was near death of the conference," Beebe told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I mean, the five institutions that looked like they were going to remain would have wanted us to reconstitute the conference, repopulate it. But it wouldn't have been the same as it was."
That didn't happen. And though Nebraska's exit was a big blow, the Big 12 is still in good shape and faces a collection of much simpler questions this spring.
The name won't change. That's already been decided, thanks to the league's board of directors. It's the right call, too.
But will withdrawal fees change? Nebraska and Colorado already had $16.1 million combined withheld from conference revenues -- a "historic" penalty, Beebe called it this spring -- but there's a good chance the Big 12 bylaws get an update in the near future.
At the very least, the penalties for teams that leave could come up for discussion.
The Big 12 released a schedule of the meetings to ESPN.com, but the exact topics up for discussion, like last year, won't be made public until Beebe is asked about them in his daily post-meeting briefings.
Tiebreaker policies in a new Big 12 could be narrowed down, but a Big 12 official told me this year that the spirit of the previous tiebreakers is likely to be retained. On-field outcome is taken into consideration first, but the BCS standings are still likely to remain the fourth tiebreaker as they've been when the computers decided the Big 12 South winner out of a three-way tie in 2010 and 2008.
The league's bowl contracts are also likely to be discussed. Some fancy footwork will be necessary for the Big 12, which now has 10 teams playing nine conference games and won't be able to fill the eight current Big 12 bowl tie-ins through 2013.
The league alluded to plans for a debut of its new branding campaign at media days in Dallas in late July, but could we see a sneak peek leak this week? (Shout out to Seuss.)
Kansas City nearly hosted the death of the Big 12 a year ago.
This year, it will host the beginning of its new life.