KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The Big 12 wrapped up a week's worth of meetings with the uneasy feeling that its future may be determined by the expansion plans of other conferences.
Commissioner Dan Beebe offered encouraging words about his league's future. Some university presidents who couldn't avoid the cameras and microphones as they tried to duck out of the InterContinental Kansas City on the Plaza expressed their support of the conference.
But conferences like the Big Ten and Pac-10 — and their current or future television deals — ultimately may determine whether the Big 12 lives or dies.
"I'm very encouraged by the discussions and the course of actions we're taking," Beebe said.
One of those actions may be a deadline for Big 12 schools reported to be targets of other conferences. Specifics weren't offered.
"A process has been set," Beebe said. "It's firm. I'm not going to engage in what it is."
But the Big 12 needs to know who's in or out as it pursues new television contracts, which is a crucial component to the league's future. The league can begin renegotiating its Fox Sports Net deal for football games on cable television beginning in April.
The deal figures to be critical to the Big 12's future. A source said that the conference's future may hinge on what would provide greater value to Fox Sports Net: a Big 12/Pac-10 alliance that would include several non-conference football matchups or the reported 16-team conference that would include the current Pac-10 schools plus Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado.
In May, the Pac-10 hired Creative Artists Agency (CAA), a Hollywood-based firm, to explore expansion rights opportunities and advise the conference on its next television contract. CAA puts together scenarios for the Pac-10 to consider, like adding schools and the alliance.
"The Pac-10 and Big 12 have been long-time and valued partners of FSN," Fox Sports Net vice president of public relations Chris Bellitti said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing our relationship and discussing whatever options can best help them and their member schools achieve their future objectives."
Like the Big 12 staying in business. If the Big 12 sticks together, Beebe said he expects a big jump in the rights fees. The conference signed a four-year deal through 2011-12 with Fox Sports Net for $78 million. Its eight-year deal with ABC/ESPN for $480 million expires in 2015-16.
Friday, the Big 12 announced it would distribute a record $139 million to its members. The same day, the Southeastern Conference announced it would distribute $209 million to its members.
Beebe said he thinks new television deals would bring the Big 12 in line with the SEC, which will cut each school a check for about $17.3 million.
The power of new TV deals: Last year, the SEC distributed a total of $132 million to its members and this year began cashing in on $3 billion worth of new contracts with CBS and ESPN.
Some Big 12 officials later issued statements supporting the Big 12 and expressing frustration over the speculation avalanche.
"The media speculation is certainly uncomfortable for those of us who have demonstrated that we are firmly committed to the Big 12," Kansas State athletic director John Currie said.
A statement from Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins took a confident tone about the Big 12's future.
"I am very encouraged as these meetings end about the strength and viability of the Big 12 Conference," Perkins said. "We all must stay patient and let this process take its course, but at the end of the day I am convinced that the Big 12 will remain, as it is today, a national leader."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. —In this uncertain time in the Big 12, the conference stuck with a known quality for its basketball tournaments.
The Big 12 has planted the event in Kansas City, announcing a three-year extension of the men's tournament at the Sprint Center and two-year addition of the women's tournament at Municipal Auditorium.
Beebe made the announcement on Friday.
The Big 12 football championship game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, also was extended for three years, through 2013.
"The Cowboys have a world-class facility in our area of the country that we should use as often as we can," Beebe said.
The league's baseball tournament will continued to be played in Oklahoma City through 2014.
"I'm optimistic," Gray said. "We're looking at a five-year run of championship basketball in the best college basketball city in the country."