- Associated Press - Thursday, September 22, 2011

There was talk of solidarity, plans for stability, expressions of encouragement.

And then there was a step toward forced confinement from the Big 12 as it sought to prevent any more departures following a topsy-turvy year in which it lost Nebraska and Colorado and learned it will lose Texas A&M soon enough.

The Big 12 dumped embattled Commissioner Dan Beebe on Thursday and announced a plan to bind nine member schools together by holding a huge financial hammer _ their TV rights for the next six years _ over their heads. The plan is far from a done deal, since it must be approved by some if not all the schools’ governing bodies.

But if it sticks, any school that considers leaving the Big 12 would have to leave their TV rights _ and millions of dollars _ behind in a blow much more punishing than a typical exit fee.

“These are very strong handcuffs,” Oklahoma President David Boren said after Big 12 university leaders met for more than an hour by telephone. “The grant of rights really does bind the conference together and it shows that we fully intend to stay together.

Handcuffs. That’s what it has come to in a fractured league that seemed ready to split apart on Monday.

And there are still signs the Big 12 has a lot of healing to do.

Oklahoma, which was trying to leave the Big 12 for the Pac-12 just a few days ago, and Missouri, which wanted to leave for the Big Ten in 2010, even staged competing news conferences to start spreading the new message of goodwill and stability in the Big 12.

Texas officials, often portrayed as the Big 12 bullies, chose not to say anything at all. Still not addressed was whether the Big 12 wants to do something about Texas’ lucrative Longhorn Network agreement with ESPN that casts an ominous shadow over the rest of the league.

Beebe is gone after five up-and-down years that included securing a 13-year, $1.2 billion contract with Fox Sports but sharp criticism for failing to keep Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) from leaving over the summer. Texas A&M plans to leave by July for the Southeastern Conference.

Former Big Eight Commissioner Chuck Neinas will serve as interim commissioner. Boren said Neinas will not be a candidate to take the job permanently.

Revenue sharing and a change of leadership were considered by some schools, notably Oklahoma, as the top issues to address to save the league in the latest round of conference realignment.

The Big 12 splits revenue from its Fox Sports contract evenly, but only half of the money from its top-tier deal with ABC goes into equal shares. The rest is weighted toward the programs that play on the network more frequently.

Boren said all nine remaining schools _ all those except for Texas A&M _ “agreed” to give a six-year grant of their first- and second-tier television rights to the Big 12.

The six-year term runs past the next negotiating period for the top-tier contract, currently with ABC/ESPN, in a bid to keep the nine schools together for the next contract.

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