September 22, 2011

Big 12 presidents begin push for stability, reform

Dan Beebe resigns, and a six-year commitment via TV rights is pursued.

Big 12 officials began the process of trying to stabilize their dysfunctional league Thursday, including the resignation of commissioner Dan Beebe and discussion of possible reforms to strengthen members' commitments and curb future defections.

Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton, chairman of the Big 12 board of directors, announced the moves in a news conference Thursday night in Columbia, Mo.

The most visible change is the departure of Beebe, 57, who will be replaced on an interim basis by Chuck Neinas, 79, a former Big Eight commissioner (1971-80) who runs a consulting firm and served as executive director of the College Football Association from 1980-1997.

Oklahoma officials pushed for Beebe's removal as part of the school's conditions to return to the Big 12 in lieu of pursuing a move to the Pac-12. OU lost leverage Tuesday night when Pac-12 officials announced the league would not be expanding. But OU received enough support from other league members interested in reform to push through Thursday's initiatives outlined by Deaton. They include:

Reactivation of the league's expansion committee, which may have TCU on its radar screen.

An intention by league presidents "to pursue the granting of media rights for a period of six years" from Big 12 members in regard to ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports contracts. Such a move would equate to a six-year commitment by all parties to remain in the Big 12.

Creation of what Deaton described as a "small working group" to address other issues, including equal revenue sharing, that could enhance league stability.

Among the Thursday proposals, the granting of media rights to the Big 12 in regard to ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports contracts figures to be the primary sticking point. Essentially, such a move means that a school would assign its primary TV rights to the conference for six years.

If that school departs within those six years, its TV rights would remain with the Big 12, making that school unavailable for telecasts in its new league.

Other leagues, notably the Pac-12 and Big Ten, have such agreements. Pac-12 members signed away their primary TV rights through 2024.

In a Wednesday conference call, Texas men's athletic director DeLoss Dodds made it clear that UT had no intention of agreeing to such a move.

"We don't want to sign over our rights to the Big 12. We want to keep all our rights," Dodds said.

But OU President David Boren strongly suggested that league presidents seemed amenable to the idea during Thursday's conference call, although Deaton stopped short of announcing it as a new policy. One source described Thursday's action as an agreement in principle for the grant-of-rights among league presidents.

"The grant of rights really binds a conference together," said Boren, who took credit for pushing the idea to fellow presidents. "I think it's essential. These are strong handcuffs. We hope it will make us stable."

Boren cited a "spirit of kumbaya" during Thursday's conference call and "a real sense of happiness" at the end of the meeting. Baylor President Ken Starr expressed satisfaction that league presidents "have come together... to recommit themselves" to the Big 12.

But, have they? Until signatures surface on a grant of rights agreement, or a similar binding document, it's hard to view Thursday's actions -- other than Beebe's resignation -- as anything other than more verbal pledges.

The next stop, from all indications, is approaching expansion candidates. But there is no consensus on that topic. Dodds said he prefers a 10-member league. Boren said he prefers a 12-school configuration.

Beebe issued a statement saying it is "satisfying to know the Big 12 Conference will survive" despite losing two schools last summer [Colorado, Nebraska] and having Texas A&M holding a conditional invitation to join the Southeastern Conference, pending a waiver of legal claims by Baylor and other Big 12 schools.

Amid the talk of stability, A&M spokesman Jason Cook said: "Another key to the Big 12's stability will be for the league to assist Texas A&M with our departure. We see the events of this week as a positive in that regard."

Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

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