Texas stays put, turning down Pacific-10 Conference to remain in a revived Big 12

By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2010; D03

The University of Texas pulled off a stunning reverse Monday, rejecting an invitation from the Pacific-10 Conference and instead reviving a Big 12 Conference that had been thought to be on life support in recent days.

A news conference is scheduled for Tuesday morning to discuss the decision, after which Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe is expected to address reporters.

"University of Texas President Bill Powers has informed us that the 10 remaining schools in the Big 12 Conference intend to stay together," Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. "We will continue to evaluate future expansion opportunities under the guidelines previously set forth by our presidents and chancellors."

Texas's decision likely will at least temporarily stop what had been looking like a full-scale realignment of the nation's major college athletic conferences. Instead of blowing up the current configuration and creating 16-team megaconferences, smaller changes seem likely, though another round could be set in motion if the Big Ten opts for further expansion.

Monday's news capped a wild weekend that saw Beebe pledge to fight to the finish to save his league while Scott jetted to prospective members to hand out invitations to join the league. It was thought that if Texas left for the Pac-10, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and perhaps Texas A&M would follow.

At the same time, university presidents, chancellors, regents and athletic directors from remaining Big 12 schools phoned their counterparts to plead with them to keep the league intact.

"Our sense is that a 10-institution Big 12 would provide even greater financial benefits than are currently being realized -- at least on par if not above and beyond those of the other major conferences in the nation," wrote the Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees the University of Kansas and Kansas State.

In addition to an emotional appeal, Beebe's last-ditch plan apparently included a proposed television rights fees contract that could pump millions more dollars into the pockets of the remaining Big 12 schools.

Maximizing television contracts to provide each school's athletic department with more money had been at the crux of the realignment discussions.

Rumblings started last week, when Colorado and Nebraska left the Big 12 for the Pac-10 and Big Ten, respectively.

Although officials from Texas, Texas A&M and other remaining Big 12 members publicly said they preferred to keep the conference intact, those with potential suitors were privately negotiating to make sure they had a place to land should the Big 12 splinter.

Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne said the Big 12's instability had played a key role in the Cornhuskers' decision to opt for the Big Ten.

At that point, after Nebraska held a news conference Friday evening, it was widely assumed that Texas would follow the money to the Pac-10, which is believed to want to start a cable channel similar to the successful Big Ten Network. Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State were also in the Pac-10's plans. Texas A&M was in the mix as well, though the Aggies also reportedly were in discussions with the Southeastern Conference about joining that league.

Somehow, though, Beebe was able to sway Texas's decision, apparently by presenting the case that a smaller Big 12 somehow would be able to procure a lucrative television contract. That would bring the league more in line with the Big Ten and Southeastern conferences, which distribute millions more to each of their member schools. ABC holds the rights to over-the-air Big 12 football and men's basketball games through the 2015-16 school year, with ESPN holding the rights to broadcast Big 12 football games on cable through the same time period. The conference's contract with Fox Sports Net to televise basketball games on cable is up for renegotiation next year.

Texas also is believed to retain its media rights, which would allow it to pursue its own cable channel.

Utah could be the Pac-10's next target, which would create a 12-team league, meeting the NCAA's minimum standard to hold a potentially lucrative conference football title game.

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