Big 12 Meetings End Creating More Questions Than Answers

Ryan FallerAnalyst IJune 4, 2010

The fourth and final day of the Big 12 spring meetings in Kansas City came and went without much ado—much to the chagrin of those of us who were looking to this ultimate closed-door pow-wow between the conference's commissioner, presidents, and chancellors for our daily intake of college football expansion nourishment.

According to the Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter, several topics were on the table between Dan Beebe and Big 12 CEOs on Friday, not the least of which was the league's plan for combating (or embracing) conference realignment.

But that particular issue was placed under lock and key, as Beebe told a gang of reporters at a press conference Friday afternoon that he and the Big 12 Board of Directors will proceed under a veil of confidentiality.

"The process that was set is firm, but I’m not going to engage in what that is," said Beebe, who is expected to meet with the board in October and then again in February.

"I want to emphasize as I close, that I'm encouraged by the meetings that we've had. I'm encouraged by the process that has been set forth from the board," Beebe said. "I understand your need to know what that is, but I'm not going to reveal that."

Though not completely definitive, at least in terms of whether he was referring to attempts by the Pac-10 or Big Ten to nab Big 12 members, Beebe did say that the "process" will "assure the solidification" of the conference.

When asked directly about Pac-10 expansion, Beebe didn't exactly chide the idea of one conference dipping into the membership pool of another.

"I don’t blame those other conferences for looking at our institutions…because they’re valuable institutions with their history and traditions," he said.

Valuable institutions that could become more so, at least according to the commish.

Beebe said Friday he's confident that his league will be able to remain intact thanks to an enhanced revenue package stemming from renewed television contracts, which in turn will create larger payouts. According to Beebe, these payouts may rival those of the SEC, which distributes roughly $17 million per school.

"We have had analysis and projections that look like we're going to be every bit as well compensated in the future," Beebe said during the press conference.

The Big 12 is expected to open negotiations with one of its television partners, Fox Sports Net, next April. The conference's contract with its other partner, ESPN, runs through 2015-16.

Along those lines, the Big 12 announced today that it will distribute some $139 million in revenue from the 2009-10 fiscal year, an increase of $9 million from a year ago.

So, clearly, the league has become a viable entity. But the uptick in earnings and promise of better television deals haven't exactly warded off concerns that a splintering of the conference is all but imminent.

If nothing else, Thursday's speculation regarding Pac-10 expansion gave Beebe and fellow Big 12 officials a glimpse into a very real future that included the complete annihilation of their conference.

Long before Big 12 officials even began to convene earlier this week, it was clear that Beebe—a hated man in several parts of the conference's geographical footprint for being a presumed Texas-centric, shortsighted twit—considered his main agenda to be an almost blazoned galvanization of a conference that has been paralyzed in recent months by reports of members bolting for the Big Ten or claims of dissension over unequal revenue sharing.

The spring meetings seemed the perfect setting for Beebe to grab the reins, take control of his conference, and usher in a wave of cohesiveness. Hoping for unity, Beebe instead got what he called "more clarity," which can be interpreted in any one of a thousand ways.

With the following months crucial to the viability and continued financial health of the Big 12, the bigwigs say a plan is in place to ensure both. Let's call it a complete 180 from yesterday evening, when an awed Beebe was forced to cancel a press conference before getting on an elevator and ascending away from the world below, where news of Pac-10 expansion began shaking the Big 12 to its core.

And it didn't take an insider to see the writing on the wall. The result is perhaps a new set of questions, ones far different from those Beebe had hoped to squash.

Rather than walking arm-in-arm, athletics directors, chancellors, and presidents from across the conference spent the final two days in Kansas City seemingly taking their respective schools down the path that offered the least amount of resistance, which at this point seems to be leading anywhere but the Big 12.

Colorado AD Mike Bohn spent the latter stages of Thursday confirming and reconfirming that he and his fellow ADs had been led to believe that the Pac-10's rumored pitch for Big 12 schools was legit.

One of Bohn's colleagues, Oklahoma Athletics Director Joe Castiglione, said yesterday's meetings revolved around the Big 12 and nothing else. After reiterating that OU is pleased with its current place in the Big 12, Castiglione stated that "everyone expressed their thoughts" on the current state of the conference, though he did not say whether that meant certain schools were displeased.

When asked Thursday whether he had been in contact with anyone from the Pac-10, Castiglione said, "Not yet." He quickly added, "Hopefully, we don't have to."

That's in stark contrast (sort of) to the comments of Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton, who impressively pulled off a Jekyll-and-Hyde routine while maintaining his university's rigidly boring stance on the prospect of expansion.

"We’re proud members of the Big 12 and have been since its inception and that’s what we’re working toward," Deaton said.

But, apparently, that membership constitutes having a wandering eye (or pair of ears).

Crammed into the same breath as Deaton's fierce loyalty to the Big 12 was the chancellor's response to whether or not the Tigers would pick up the phone if the Big Ten were to place the official call.

"We’re not shutting our ears to anything," Deaton said. "I’m sure every school here has that responsibility to its own institution.’’

He even went as far as to tell The Associated Press this glorious nugget: “Conference realignment is something we do for our athletic programs. That’s what we’re working on right now.”

And I would be remiss in not mentioning what the Columbus Dispatch was able to uncover through a public records request the email exchange between Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, in which Gee told Delany that he had received contact from Texas president William Powers.

Powers, the Big 12 Board of Directors spokesperson who left Kansas City before he could be rounded up by reporters, told Gee that he would "welcome a call to say they have a 'Tech' problem," presumably referring to Texas Tech.

Texas Tech, which some feel will follow Texas wherever they go, is not a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), which the Big Ten considers to be a nearly non-debatable requirement for admittance into its conference.