September 27, 2011

Stability of nucleus is Big 12's first priority

Athletic directors say solidarity necessary to plot expansion.

GRAPEVINE -- Big 12 athletic directors met Tuesday to discuss steps to stabilize its nine-member nucleus and plot a course for expansion after Monday's announcement that Texas A&M will join the Southeastern Conference for the 2012 football season.

Iowa State's Jamie Pollard, chairman of the Big 12 athletic directors, said he feels "really comfortable" about the league's future despite ongoing speculation about Missouri's interest in joining the SEC. But Pollard acknowledged members must "prove" their solidarity to outsiders before they can lure expansion candidates to a league that has discussed operating with nine, 10, 12 or 16 teams in the future.

"Actions have to speak louder than words," Pollard said. "Ultimately, we'll have to prove it because there will always be doubters. The most important piece right now is the solidarity among the nine ... so that we can be stabilized before we entertain whether [membership] should be nine, 10, 12 or 16. At the end of the day, the right number will appear and we'll talk about the positives."

The Big 12 has lost Texas A&M, Colorado and Nebraska to other leagues in the last 15 months.

A committee seeking ways to enhance league stability on issues that include television rights and revenue sharing also will delve into parameters for school-operated networks like the Longhorn Network, Texas' 20-year, $300 million venture in partnership with ESPN.

Presidents from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa State are on the committee. Pollard said no actions were approved.

League presidents came to an agreement last week on a proposal in which Big 12 schools would grant their media rights for a six-year period to league officials in regard to ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports contracts, a move that would equate to a six-year commitment to remain in the league. But the proposal has yet to be finalized and such a move cannot be taken until there is clarity in regard to Missouri.

Announcing Monday's addition of A&M, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said his league plans to operate as a 13-team conference during the 2012-13 school year. Slive reiterated that stance Tuesday but did not close the door to expanding beyond 13 teams in the future.

Missouri athletic director Mike Alden shed no light on his school's intentions, calling this "a crazy time" in college athletics. Texas men's athletic director DeLoss Dodds declined comment, referring all questions to Pollard, who spoke for the group.

Pollard said he expects imminent action from the four-member committee but did not know if the timetable would be "a day, a week or two weeks." He also stressed that the Big 12's policy of allowing each school to keep its third-tier TV rights -- a move that allowed creation of the Longhorn Network and other school-run networks and websites within the league -- is viewed as a positive in seeking expansion candidates.

"That's a hallmark of our league," Pollard said. "It's an advantage to our league. Yes, third-tier rights will remain the property of our schools."

Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

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