Expansion talk swirls for conferences

Updated: June 6, 2010, 10:38 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Speculation continues to swirl around the future of the Pac-10 and Big 12 as both conferences hold meetings to discuss what's next in college sports' impending game of musical chairs.

Add to that a report Friday from The Columbus Dispatch that Ohio State president Gordon Gee has had an e-mail conversation about expansion with his counterpart at Texas, William Powers, and the Big Ten's future is also in the news.

The Big 12, meeting this week in Kansas City amid rumors of a breakup, seems to have come out intact -- for now.

Commissioner Dan Beebe said Friday that he is "comfortable" the league will remain intact.

After four days of meetings, the future of the 14-year-old league seemed perhaps less secure than ever. Beebe and many of his colleagues hoped the spring meetings would end with a declaration of unbreakable solidarity. That didn't happen.

All Beebe could do Friday was say he's an optimistic fellow by nature and that a "process" had been put in place by Big 12 presidents to ensure the long-term viability of a conference that has greatly increased revenue for its members, but still not kept pace in television dollars with the other big boys.

The presidents are scheduled to meet again in October.

"I am comfortable," Beebe said as meetings wrapped up. "There's still a process we're going through but based on the conversations we had I think we're in a very good position."

He would not discuss how the process will keep the Big 12 intact.

"The process that has been set is firm. But I'm not going to engage in what that is," he said.

Out of the East is a threat from the Big Ten, perhaps interested in luring away Nebraska, Missouri and Texas. In the West, the Pac-10 may be eyeing Colorado and a group of Texas schools.

Nebraska and Missouri triggered talk of a Big 12 breakup by indicating they would be interested in talking to the expansion-minded Big Ten. Then on Thursday, a blog report went through these meetings like a lightning bolt with word that the Pac-10 planned to invite six Big 12 schools and create two eight-team divisions. Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn later said he thought the report was valid, and Beebe and Texas president Bill Powers decided to cancel their scheduled news conference.

The driving issue of all the expansion talk is money, and the possibility of schools greatly boosting revenue by adding to their inventory of television homes.

The drop-dead date may be October, the next time the Big 12 presidents meet. It could hardly be longer away than February, when they meet just before Beebe begins negotiations on a new cable deal with Fox.

As a sales pitch to keep the league together, Beebe spent the week explaining that he expected huge increases in rights fees from both Fox and ESPN. Unfortunately for those wanting to keep the Big 12 intact, its more lucrative contract with ESPN runs through the 2015-16 academic year.

The greatly staggered contract dates are not working in the Big 12's favor as it seeks to keep up with other leagues.

"We have had analysis and projections that look like we're going to be every bit as well compensated in the future," Beebe said.

Under their present television deals, Big 12 members received between $7 million and $10 million each last year, depending on how many appearances each school made. The Big Ten, enriched by its Big Ten cable network, distributed some $22 million to each member last season.

An expanded Pac-10 could launch its own TV network and command huge money. Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado were said to be on the Pac-10's shopping list. If they take that deal and Nebraska and Missouri go to the Big Ten, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State would be in danger of not belonging to a BCS league -- a crisis for those institutions.

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said Thursday reports of a larger Pac-10 are "all speculation," but he did concede to the Seattle Times "there is an enormous amount of speculation about conference expansion right now and I think with the Pac-10 that anything is possible, all the way from remaining with the status quo, where we are today, to a full merger with the Big 12 and anything in between. All possibilities are viable and open for discussion."

The Pac-10 meets this weekend in San Francisco. Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said the league continues to conduct an "exhaustive and proactive" evaluation of its future.

Friday, The Columbus Dispatch first reported the e-mail exchange between Gee and Powers, plus another between Gee and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.

"I did speak with Bill Powers at Texas, who would welcome a call to say they have a 'Tech' problem," Gee wrote in an e-mail sent to Delany and obtained by the Dispatch through a public-records request for documents and correspondence related to Big Ten expansion proposals. The Tech problem presumably involves Texas Tech, a school some feel would have to come with Texas and Texas A&M in any bid for those schools to join the Big Ten.

The day before writing about his conversation with Powers, Gee wrote Delany to say he was "of the mind that we control our destiny at the moment, but the window will soon close on us. Agility and swiftness of foot is our friend."

Delany said: "We are fast-tracking it but need to know the $ and observe contracts," according to the Dispatch.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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