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.
“If you wanted to talk about one important action that really does demonstrate that this conference is going to be stable, that we’re not going to have year-to-year dramas like we have had, I think that grant of rights is a very essential item,” Boren said.
Texas Tech President Guy Bailey agreed.
“Not everybody in the past has been willing to do that,” Bailey said.
Texas has proposed equal revenue sharing of top-level television rights but also said it won’t make changes to its controversial 20-year, $300 million contract with ESPN for the Longhorn Network.
Boren said any changes to the Longhorn Network would have to be considered by a special panel to be appointed by Big 12 board chairman Brady Deaton, Missouri’s chancellor. Boren said that panel would likely be chosen by Friday.
Texas officials were not available for comment Thursday night.
Thursday’s conference call came after a whirlwind month when the league appeared _ again _ to be on the verge of breaking apart.
The league nearly split when Nebraska and Colorado left. The Big 12 appeared to be set as a 10-team league until Texas A&M announced earlier this month it will leave in 2012 to seek membership in the Southeastern Conference.
That started a new round of maneuvering and Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech all were considering a potential move to the Pac-12 until it announced Tuesday that it would not expand.
The 54-year-old Beebe became an easy target for schools upset about instability in the league.
“I have no negative personal feelings toward our previous commissioner, but I’m alarmed by the fact that in 15 months we lost three teams and I’m aware in detail in how of some of those situations played out,” Boren said. “I don’t feel it was inevitable that we lost those three teams.”
Critics portrayed Beebe as constantly being outmaneuvered by other league commissioners who were picking off his teams one by one and as someone beholden to Texas, the Big 12’s biggest and wealthiest member.
Last fall, Beebe was granted a three-year extension on his contract through 2015. When the extension was announced, Deaton said Beebe had been “an outstanding leader” during challenging times.
Now, he’s gone.
“I put all my effort into doing what was best for the Big 12. With great fondness, I wish the Big 12 Conference a long and prosperous future,” Beebe said in a statement released by the Big 12.
That future includes finding a replacement for Texas A&M. Boren said an expansion committee within the Big 12 had been restarted, but offered no timeline.
Texas has said it wants the Big 12 to stay at 10 teams. Others may want to go back to 12.
As for the Aggies?
Texas A&M’s president, R. Bowen Loftin, participated in the call as a voting member but Boren said “no one should take that as a signal that they have changed their minds.” Boren said the other nine members did nothing to remove the threat of legal action that has kept A&M’s departure from being finalized.
“I think that it’s highly likely that they will go to the SEC,” Boren said. “They’re so far down the line, I think, with the SEC that I don’t think they are likely to change their mind.”
Texas A&M spokesman Jason Cook said the school is not sticking around.
“Another key to the (Big 12’s) stability will be for the league to assist Texas A&M with our departure. The events of this week were positive in that regard,” Cook said.
AP Sports Writers Jeff Latzke, Betsy Blaney and AP Writer Alan Scher Zagier contributed to this report.
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