If the Big 12 is to survive and thrive without Texas A&M in the mix, Texas Tech President Guy Bailey said the league will need written agreements with a "real enforceable commitment" from members and one to three additional football teams that can be "a major national player."
Bailey said Thursday the league's tenuous situation in light of A&M's ongoing talks about moving to the Southeastern Conference has been "a real wake-up call" to league administrators, who find themselves in limbo until A&M makes its next move. A&M administrators have been frank about their intentions, with incoming Chancellor John Sharp offering public support of an SEC move, calling it "a wonderful opportunity."
If the Aggies depart, Bailey said: "It's incumbent on us to be aggressive in assuring the future of the conference. If not, we're going to be in the same boat again next year or the year after."
Toward that end, Bailey is calling all league members -- including potential A&M replacements -- to sign binding contracts going forward, rather than operating on the verbal commitments issued last June when league teams agreed to move forward in the current 10-member configuration after defections by Colorado and Nebraska.
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"We do have to do get something to secure our future... and that probably means putting your name on the dotted line," Bailey said. "Doing that in a legally binding way is pretty important."
Commissioner Dan Beebe has made a similar suggestion, as well as raising the possibility of having the league's board of directors issue a deadline for A&M to declare its intentions. But Bailey, who said his first choice would be for A&M to remain in the league, admitted he did not know how to put teeth behind such a deadline with no bylaw on the Big 12 books to address the current situation. So the focus is on contingency plans.
"As a conference, we have to plan for A&M... leaving," Bailey said.
The most realistic expansion targets, say league sources, include Brigham Young, Houston, Air Force and TCU -- likely in that order. But there is sentiment to make a run at Notre Dame, college football's perpetual independent, to gauge interest.
"There's only one way to find out," said a source.
Clearly, Notre Dame - which has shunned past Big Ten expansion overtures - would meet Bailey's desire for "a major national player." So would TCU, the reigning Rose Bowl champs, and BYU, which will play an independent schedule this season. So would Arkansas, another long shot.
Houston, a school receiving lots of support from Texas lawmakers, could see its bid for Big 12 membership enhanced by moving its home football and basketball games to existing professional sports venues in the city rather than in its aging, on-campus facilities. One source has cited that possibility as part of a Houston bid.
Regardless of what happens, Bailey said an expanded Big 12 is the optimal future home for Texas Tech. He said he doesn't see a revival of last year's package deal -- Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to the current Pac-12 -- because of Texas' creation of the Longhorn Network. The Pac-12, which recently created its own network, doesn't allow single-school networks for members.
Bailey, like most Big 12 administrators, envisions a 10-member conference going forward because the league's 13-year, $1.17 billion agreement signed in April with Fox Sports was drafted under those guidelines.
"Any change in numbers, we'd have to work through carefully," he said.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760