KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Amid reports that up to eight schools could flee the 14-year-old Big 12 Conference, the league’s presidents agreed to a process where they would evaluate their schools’ best interests.
Beyond that, there was little substance released publicly Friday.
Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe said he is “very encouraged” about the Big 12’s future and the schools that currently comprise the conference. But he declined to talk openly about the league’s evaluation process.
“Based on the conversations that we’ve had, I think we’re in a very good position,” Beebe said.
But that’s not a consensus position. A joint statement released by Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy and Athletics Director Jamie Pollard on Friday reflected the league’s fragile status and how it has affected their school.
“We believe the Big 12 Conference is the perfect fit for Iowa State University,” Pollard and Geoffroy wrote. “We are committed to our membership in the Big 12, and we are optimistic that the conference will remain intact. However, we also recognize that the long-term viability of the Big 12 Conference is not in our control — it is in the hands of just a few of our fellow member institutions.
“Iowa State and several other members of the Big 12 Conference are especially vulnerable under some of the realignment scenarios currently circulating, particularly one involving expansion of the Pac-10. We are doing everything in our power to represent the best interests of Iowa State in these discussions, but we also are sensitive to the huge uncertainty that has been created and recognize that the situation could evolve in directions that are not aligned with our interests.”
An online report Thursday outlined a Pac-10 Conference plan to add Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado as part of a 16-school, two-division strategy. Officials at Missouri and Nebraska have expressed previous interest in the Big Ten.
Those scenarios could leave the Big 12 with only four schools.
“I don’t blame those other conferences for looking at our institutions,” Beebe said. “They’re valuable institutions with a lot of great history and tradition and could add a lot. I think we have a compelling case for why these 12 should stay together.”
The kingpin is Texas, which boasts the richest athletics department in college sports. The state is second in population with the fourth- and sixth-largest metropolitan areas in Dallas and Houston, respectively. Texas is attractive to other leagues because they could then command more money for television contracts.
The Big 12 distributed $139 million among its institutions this year. But that pales when compared with the Big Ten, which spread $206.8 million among its 11 schools in 2008. The Southeastern, Atlantic Coast and Pac-10 conferences also have larger markets, new television contracts and potential for revenue growth.
Beebe was asked if the Big 12 could survive a departure by Texas. He sat for a couple of seconds before answering the question.
“That’s something we’re looking at in the process for all institutions,” he said. “That will be part of the evaluation as we go through the process.”
Beebe said he is preparing contingency plans in case schools leave the conference. He declined to elaborate.
“What the other conferences are doing, they’re not under my control as to whether they’re going to agree to offer membership to my institutions,” Beebe said.
“It’s understandable that (the Pac-10 is) looking at all options under a new commissioner so we’ve talked about that directly.”
Big 12 officials will meet again in October, then in February. It’s possible by the end of this year, Beebe said, the future will be determined. He called it “a critical time period.”
“What we have now is pretty good and to tinker with it might be a risk,” Beebe said. “Nonetheless, each of us has to be prepared with contingencies, and I think on balance you have to look at what the risks are to student-athletes and academic performance and welfare and the factors that weigh into that.”