Monday, June 14, 2010
Updated: June 15, 8:30 PM ET
Source: Influential group saved Big 12
By Andy Katz
In an unprecedented move, a number of influential people inside and outside of college athletics mobilized over the past week to save the Big 12 Conference, stave off the Pac-10's move to expand to 16 schools and prevent a massive reorganization of college athletics.
An NCAA source with direct knowledge of what occurred told ESPN.com that the aggressiveness of the Pac-10 caused various factions of the collegiate sports world to coalesce. They then worked to slow and try to stop the pace of moves that would have left a number of schools searching for a new conference home.
The source said the people involved were business executives, conference commissioners, athletic directors, network executives with ties throughout college athletics, administrators at many levels throughout the NCAA membership and a "fair number of them without a dog in the hunt."
According to the source, this collection of interested and influential people made phone calls, visited in person and held conference calls with the Big 12 schools that were being pursued, including Texas, as well as Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe. The influential group also helped broker the new television deal between Texas (and the other schools considering leaving the conference) and Beebe, who represented the remaining Big 12 schools.
According to the source, there was a growing sense that the Pac-10 was taking an approach inconsistent with the best interests and values of the schools impacted, both positively and negatively.
Late Monday, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said that Texas had rebuffed the league's invitation to join the conference. Soon after, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State announced they would remain in the Big 12. That meant the Big 12 wouldn't dissolve despite the fact Nebraska left for the Big Ten and Colorado left for the Pac-10. Several details remain, but Texas president William Powers Jr. told Scott "the 10 remaining schools in the Big 12 Conference intend to stay together."
Scott reportedly was promising a Pac-10 network that had to include Texas to be a formidable option for cable providers in the Southwest and West Coast. The Pac-10 will negotiate a new television contract in 2012 and now must approach the talks as an 11-team league (as currently situated) or a 12-team league (if the Pac-10 opts for another member like Utah out of the Mountain West).
The 10 remaining Big 12 schools reviewed a plan prepared by Beebe that reportedly will produce increased television rights and the chance for each school to have its own network, something Texas is interested in. Orangebloods.com reported that the new TV deal would pay Texas $20 million to $25 million annually from the league deal and its own network.
The Big 12 will have an unequal revenue plan and that means Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M would likely earn more revenue. And if the figures are all correct, the remaining Big 12 schools would still double their television revenue to $14 million to $17 million annually.
"The Big 12 sticking wasn't a miracle,'' said the source. "There have been a number of people who were involved -- a number of seriously key people -- unrelated to the conference who will never be known to have helped get things on track.''
The Pac-10 was looking to invite Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech to join Colorado for a 16-team league. A&M was trying to get interest from the SEC. There was some early interest from the school, but no formal offer from the SEC.
The five schools without suitors -- Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor -- were pushing to keep the league together. They were all advised to not dissolve the Big 12 if the others left in order to collect money due the league, including exit fees and NCAA tournament payments.
The decision by Texas to stay with the Big 12 slows down what was rumored to be widespread conference expansion. Now, the only moves finalized are Nebraska to the Big Ten (giving it 12 teams), the Pac-10 adding Colorado (going to 11 teams) and the Mountain West adding a 10th team (Boise State). Nebraska and Boise State are expected to begin play for the 2011-12 school year; Colorado's status hasn't been finalized.
Colorado, Nebraska and Boise State all have had their respective runs in football -- the driving force in the move -- but none has been a major player in men's basketball, making the move almost moot so far in the second-most financially productive sport.
Keeping the 10 schools in the Big 12 will allow the conference to keep its BCS automatic berth and its NCAA basketball tournament automatic berth. The Big 12 won't be allowed to hold a football championship game unless it adds two more members or works to change the rules, which currently require 12 teams to have a title game.
A Kansas source said that, as a 10-team league, the Big 12 would be more profitable and would be one of the top basketball conferences in the country. The source said the remaining Big 12 schools will play a true round-robin 18-game schedule, much like the Pac-10 does in its current form.
The 10-team Big 12 conference will also play nine conference football games.
Preserving the Big 12 will put the Big East at ease for the moment. The SEC is unlikely to expand into the ACC. The Big Ten, now with 12 teams, could expand, but has said it will continue to study the issue.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.