By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2010; 9:28 PM
Less than an hour before the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors unanimously approved to accept the University of Nebraska's membership application Friday afternoon, one of the remaining athletic directors in the now 10-school Big 12 stated his belief that his conference's future remained viable.
In a phone interview, Baylor Athletic Director Ian McCaw said he was "very comfortable" with a 10-team conference model, stating that the Big 12's television partners -- which include Fox -- "actually suggest we'll earn more per school in revenue as a 10-team league with the current membership than we did previously."
Before the 15-minute conversation had finished, ESPN.com published a report stating that Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are prepared to join the Pacific-10 as soon as formal offers -- which could come as early as Tuesday -- are made.
The sizable task, then, facing Baylor and other Big 12 members who soon could be left behind is to find a way to persuade Texas -- widely viewed as the linchpin to determining the Big 12's fate -- to stay put. McCaw remained confident, despite mounting evidence that his conference is on the verge of implosion.
"We think we have the revenue piece solved through our television partners," McCaw said. "We know we have a great conference. We know we have a known entity. And I genuinely believe that it's in the best interest of each of those 10 schools to remain in the Big 12. It's just a matter of convincing all parties that that's the case."
Depending on how many TV appearances each school made, Big 12 members received between $7 and $10 million last year under the conference's current television deals. The Big Ten -- which owns and operates its own cable television network -- funneled roughly $22 million to each of its 11 members last year.
The Pac-10 -- which gained former Big 12 member Colorado on Thursday -- is aiming to launch its own television network and gain a subsequent lucrative payout.
The Big 12 has been in negotiations with Fox over a new television deal, and according to McCaw and other Big 12 sources, the projected new Fox contract will be favorable, should the conference remain intact. In fact, multiple Big 12 sources said the conference attempted to use the projected new Fox agreement as a means to convince Nebraska not to leave for the Big Ten.
While Colorado was the first Big 12 member to depart for another conference, Nebraska was viewed as the floodgate that could portend the Big 12's doom. That notion, said Nebraska faculty athletics representative Josephine Potuto, was considered during the school's deliberations in recent weeks over whether to remain in the Big 12 or leave for the Big Ten.
"We certainly knew that it was a possibility," Potuto said of whether Nebraska's departure could lead several other Big 12 schools to follow suit. "But ultimately, the chancellor, the athletics director, the individuals at the university, the regents have to make a decision that's in the best interests of their institution.
"And this one is so clearly in the best interests -- both on the academic and athletic side -- that it's not that you don't feel sad about it and sorry that it looks like you're partly responsible for what might occur, but you've got to do what's right for your institution. That's what your fiduciary responsibility is."
Potuto said that in her opinion -- and not necessarily that of her university -- if Nebraska had decided to stay in the Big 12, "some of the moves that look like they're going to happen would have happened."
"Certainly, if you look at some of the public comments by other members of the Big 12 Conference, they were interested in retaining and preserving the conference," Potuto said. "And it was Nebraska's interest or decision in moving that I think, to some extent, prompted their serious looks elsewhere."
The Texas Board of Regents announced Friday that it will meet Tuesday in Austin to determine the school's next course of action regarding possible conference re-alignment. The Texas Tech Board of Regents also will meet Tuesday and hold discussions along similar grounds pertaining to its own school's direction.
According to a report by the Austin American Statesman, Texas A&M is torn between joining the Pac-10 or the Southeastern Conference. The Austin American Statesman reported that Texas A&M will have a 72-hour timetable to decide whether to accept the Pac-10's offer, which could come as early as this weekend.
Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione told The Oklahoman on Thursday that if Texas elected to remain in the Big 12, the other Big 12 schools considering departure from the conference likely would stay put, as well. Oklahoma, Kansas and Baylor are spearheading the drive to prove the economic viability of a 10-member Big 12.
"It would also allow us to play a nine-game schedule in football and an 18-game schedule in basketball, both of which are appealing to our administrators and our fans," McCaw said. "The 10-team model is positive in a lot of ways. Plus, it limits travel and missed class time, so we think it would be best for our student-athletes, as well. So we're bullish on the 10-team model moving forward, and we think it's best for everything."
However, operating with 10 teams would prohibit the Big 12 under current Bowl Championship Series regulations from hosting a conference championship game in football. The Big 12 generated $6 million in ticket sales alone from its conference championship game last season at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
A conference football championship game "is helpful," McCaw said. "There's been some talk about being able to petition for a waiver to have a championship in a 10-team league. But to be honest with you, there's some within our membership that would prefer not to have a championship game anyway. In some ways, this could end up being a model that's very appealing to all."
Other Big 12 officials -- who wished to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the re-alignment topic -- expressed skepticism that the conference will be able to retain 10 members, much less survive with 10 members.
"I'm very concerned that some of us are going to be left outside," said one Big 12 source, referring to Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State, schools that might soon be left to scramble to find a conference affiliation.
McCaw said that although he is aware of all the possible scenarios that may play out in the coming weeks, he has not given much thought to what Baylor would do if the Big 12 collapsed.
"Most of our communication has been within the Big 12 to other schools," McCaw said. "At this point our situation is fluid, but we're hopeful that we can keep all 10 schools together in the Big 12. That's the best scenario, and again, it's also very important to us that we remain aligned with the Texas schools, wherever that might be."