Wednesday brought clarity in one sense for the Big 12. Texas A&M, rumored to be leaving the conference for the past month, made its intention official.
But no sooner were the Aggies out the door, likely headed for the Southeastern Conference, that speculation swirled about their replacement — and in a statement-flying and fan-letter writing afternoon the Big 12 schools and its Board of Directors re-emphasized the quest for aggressive expansion.
The buzz was so hot that Brigham Young, an often-mentioned target of Big 12 speculation, was compelled to issue a statement.
“Commenting on such conjecture is not productive and creates a distraction for our program,” it read.
But anybody wishing for a swift trade of schools and conferences was disappointed. The only announcement of substance came from College Station and served as the beginning of the end to a relationship with the Big 12 and perhaps its football rivalry with Texas, which began in 1894.
“I have determined it is in the best interest of Texas A&M to make application to join another athletic conference,” university President R. Bowen Loftin said in his letter to Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe. Texas A&M will leave the conference on June 30, 2012, if it is accepted by the SEC.
The Aggies’ disenchantment with the Big 12 has endured since last year, when the 15-year-old conference nearly split apart. With the Pac-10 poised to invite six schools, including A&M, the Aggies sent signals to the SEC that they would rather relocate there.
The Big 12 held together after Nebraska bolted for the Big Ten and the Pac-10 stopped at 12 after adding Colorado and Utah. But the Aggies weren’t happy in January when the University of Texas announced the Longhorn Network, an ESPN product that will add $20 million to the coffers of A&M’s chief rival for each of the next 15 years.
The Aggies were further incensed having to fight the Big 12 on issues such as the Longhorn Network’s desire to broadcast Texas high school football games and a second Big 12 football game. The conference originally said each Big 12 school would be allowed to air one football game per season on a school-based outlet.
In a letter posted on the Texas A&M website, athletic director Bill Byrne said the Longhorn Network was a development that has “caused a great deal of uncertainty within the Big 12.”
Byrne said he saw the second game as “an attempt to coerce other Big 12 schools to move their football games in Austin to the Longhorn Network. Our understanding from day one was that every conference school would have the rights to one football game and a handful of basketball games.”
As of Wednesday, the Longhorn Network hadn’t secured a second game, and it cannot unless the game is approved by the opponent and Big 12 office.
Beyond replacement targets, many uncertainties remain in the wake of the Aggies’ departure.
First is the issue of exit fees. Under Big 12 bylaws, A&M could forfeit up to $30 million in conference-generated revenue, but it likely will work out a settlement for around half that, which would be distributed equally to the remaining nine schools.
Television money is another. In April, the Big 12 announced a $1.2 billion, 13-year deal with Fox Sports Net for second-tier, or cable, football broadcast rights. The deal was for a 10-team conference that included Texas A&M and could be voided if the Aggies leave. But the contract could also remain in effect if a suitable replacement is found for A&M.
According to a Big 12 source, the conference believes it will continue to hold sway in major Texas markets with Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor. And if a 10th team is added from another area of the country, such as what the Big 12 expansion committee is exploring, the conference will have expanded its viewership. In addition to BYU, sources say the Big 12 is considering Big East teams Pittsburgh and Louisville as well.
But while Beebe — and Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton, chair of the Big 12 Board of Directors — say the nine remaining Big 12 schools are committed to staying together and finding a replacement for Texas A&M, that may not be enough to stave off future raids on the league’s membership.
Assuming the SEC delivers an invitation to the Aggies, that conference would likely add a 14th team. ACC schools Virginia Tech, Florida State and Clemson have been largely speculated. Among others mentioned is Missouri.
Last summer, when the Big 12 stayed together, the Pac-12 added two and the Big Ten one, the 16-team superconference land rush was avoided. But would the Big Ten and Pac-12 respond to a 14-team SEC by luring away Big 12 schools such as Oklahoma, or even Kansas?
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Wednesday that his conference has no current plans to expand, but if so, schools such as Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor could find themselves in the same position as last summer, without options in a BCS automatic-qualifier conference.
What they’re saying at …
Athletic director Mike Alden wrote to Tigers fans on MU’s website and spoke on behalf of chancellor Brady Deaton, who is also chairman of the Big 12 Board of Directors.
“I know that Dr. Deaton, myself and all of us at Mizzou are committed to working hard to keep the Big 12 a strong and successful conference. … Rest assured that the Mizzou ‘brand’ is extremely strong nationally.”
Athletic director Sheahon Zenger issued this statement:
“We have known for some time that this was a possibility. We have nine institutions firmly committed to the Big 12 Conference. Chancellor (Bernadette) Gray-Little and I will continue working together with Commissioner (Dan) Beebe, the Big 12 Board of Directors and the other conference members as we take the necessary steps to ensure the continued strength of this conference.”
President Kirk Schulz and athletic director John Currie issued a joint statement:
“K-State remains fully committed to the Big 12 Conference and continues to be excited about its future. There is great solidarity among the nine league institutions and an eagerness to achieve the stability our students, fans and alumni deserve. We remain actively engaged with our conference administration and fellow presidents and athletic directors in proactively determining our next steps.”