Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds began what could be a pivotal four days of Big 12 Conference meetings with the strongest indication yet that his program will join Missouri and Nebraska in listening to more lucrative offers from other conferences.
“We did not start this,” Dodds told The Star on Tuesday afternoon in the lobby of the InterContinental Kansas City at the Plaza. “If we need to finish it, we’ll finish it. We’re going to be a player in whatever happens.”
Asked directly about criticism of Missouri and Nebraska within the Big 12 for an alleged disloyalty to the league, Dodds defended both schools.
“Everybody stays ready,” said Dodds. “Everybody figures out what’s best for them and get options.”
That includes Texas.
“We’re watching what’s happening with the Big Ten, probably to a lesser degree to the Southeastern Conference,” Dodds said. “If the landscape is going to change, we’re going to be a part of it and be a viable part of it. Texas will come out of it in good shape.” Dodds said he wanted the Big 12 to remain a viable entity, that the league had been good for Texas and that Texas had been good for the league.
He also said Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe was simply doing his job when he issued his who’s-on-the plane statement about trying to gain commitments — possibly at these meetings — on which schools planned to remain in the Big 12.
“He’s commissioner of the Big 12 and he’s being proactive and I like that,” Dodds said. “He’s paid to keep the conference together, keep it viable.”
Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne was, by comparison, almost mum on the expansion issue as he prepared to go into a late-afternoon meeting of Big 12 athletic directors. “I’ll know more after this meeting,” said Osborne, who has previously expressed — as have Missouri officials — a willingness to listen to invitations to leave the Big 12. After the meeting, Osborne added only that “we had a productive discussion.”
Missouri athletic director Mike Alden — early in the day — said he sensed no bitter feelings from other athletic directors or conference officials.
After the meetings broke up shortly after 6 p.m., Alden said that held true.
“You’ve got a group of folks that have worked together for a long time,” Alden said. “I think everybody has great professional and personal respect for each other.”
What was said during meetings on Tuesday ultimately — by agreement of the athletic directors — was left only for Beebe and Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw, who presided over those meetings — to reveal.
“There was frank conversation,” Beebe said, without revealing the substance of it.
“We want to honor each other in terms of the discussion and not just air it out in a public forum. But there was very respectful and honest communication.”
Beebe backed off his getting-on-the-plane analogy just a bit. He said the league would not have to know until April 2011 — when the Big 12’s contract with cable partner Fox Sports Net expires — if its membership would remain constant.
“I was speaking the truth about the need, I think, as the commissioner as I plan for the future and coordinate our rights negotiations,” Beebe said. “At what point do we decide whether we can close the plane doors and take off?”
Beebe answered his own rhetorical question, saying member schools might “be telling me that those doors have to remain open for a lot longer time than I’m comfortable with.
“But I think you can all understand, from a commissioner’s seat, that’s not a comforting thing to know that there’s going to be possible exploration of other options.”
Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins — aside from Dodds — proved the most expansive in his commentary on expansion and realignment, which Perkins said he considers the biggest issue facing college athletics. And concern over how, or in what form, the Big 12 might emerge from that process.
“If I said I wasn’t worried, I would be a fool,” Perkins said. “This is serious, serious, serious stuff.”
Perkins said he did not it would necessarily be a quick process.
“This is probably a year, two years, three years,” Perkins said.
Perkins indicated one certain thing might be the uncertainty of the process, as it was when he was the athletic director at Connecticut and a member of the Big East when that league lost three teams to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I heard a bunch of people say certain things,” Perkins said, “and three days later it was not what they told me.”
Perkins expressed confidence in and empathy for Beebe.
“Being the commissioner of the Big 12 right now is a squeeze,” Perkins said. “Dan should not be to blame for anything.”
The penalties for leaving the Big 12 are in the league bylaws. If a school desired to join another conference for the 2012 athletic year, it would suffer a 50 percent reduction in its share of league revenues if it provided notification by July 1. Notification coming thereafter results in increasingly prohibitive percentage losses in revenue over two years.
The Big Ten — considered the most likely landing place for Missouri, Nebraska and Texas if any of those schools depart the Big 12 — established in December a 12-to-18 month timeline to consider expansion.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has said that rough timetable has not changed.
But in the Big 12, the discussions of what may take place remain of immediate and lasting concern.