Promise of bigger TV dollars drove Big 12 survival
AUSTIN, Texas – Looking for the savior of the Big 12? Follow the money.Assurances that the big television money will soon be coming to the leaner Big 12 pulled the league back from the dead, officials with schools and the league said Tuesday.With Colorado (Pac-10) and Nebraska (Big Ten) leaving in the next two years and the Pac-10 making a hard sell to Texas and four other schools to join them, the promises – not guarantees – of bigger checks in the future finally persuaded the Longhorns and the others to stay put.”This is a long-term and unequivocal commitment,” Texas president William Powers Jr., said Tuesday. “We’ve decided the Big 12 provides the best long-term opportunity for our university.”Last year, Big 12 schools divided between $7 million and $10 million each depending on how many appearances they made on regional and national TV. The Big 12’s television deal with Fox expires in 2012 and a more lucrative contract with ESPN runs through the 2015-2016 academic year.Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said no new TV deals have been struck, but he has “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.” He did not provide any numbers during a conference call with reporters.The Big 12 has increased the financial reward for every one of its members since it began play in 1996. It distributed $139 million to its members this past fiscal year, more than ever.Texas, already the richest and most powerful of the Big 12 schools, is convinced it can make even more money in a 10-team league.”The Big 12 (television) package is going to be every bit as good as any other conference,” Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said. “We are in good shape on the television side.”And by staying in the Big 12, Texas can move forward with a plan to possibly start its own Longhorns network. If they had moved to the Pac-10, Texas would have had to surrender its media rights.Texas women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky said the network, which would broadcast Texas sports and other university events, should bring in “millions” to the school.Some of the league’s smaller schools are giving up cash for the promise of keeping the league together and more money later.Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State and Missouri – who were in danger of being left homeless if the conference dissolved – agreed to give up their share in buyout penalties to be paid by Nebraska and Colorado for leaving the league, Beebe said.The idea is to have that money go to Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma, the schools the Big 12 needed to stay to remain viable, to make up for the difference in revenue those three might have made going elsewhere.Beebe insisted the decision to stick together was about more than money.”A strong, strong consideration … by the institutions to remain is the association of these schools, the fact that college athletics is very much a regional, regionally supported endeavor, and that it would be a great travesty for this part of this country if it’s major institutions located with conferences that aren’t in this region,” Beebe said.Texas A&M’s flirtations with the Southeastern Conference had threatened to pull apart a 100-year-old rivalry with Texas.”We committed to the Big 12 before we knew what Texas A&M was going to do. We are delighted Texas and Texas A&M will be in the same conference,” Powers said.One thing that could still fracture the conference are hurt feelings. Missouri officials had hoped for an invitation to the Big Ten and other less-influential members of the league may not appreciate the top-down nature of the conference.”We live in athletics,” Dodds said. “We beat each other up on Saturdays, we hug each other on Sunday.”___AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Fort Worth, Texas, contributed to this report.