Dallas — Even after Big 12 powerbrokers assemble in Kansas City for their annual spring meeting this week, the size and stability of the conference won’t be decided for months.
Commissioner Dan Beebe would settle for a commitment by league members. He also understands his limited power to enact change for a conference at the crossroads.
“I’m not the decision-maker,” Beebe said during a recent interview. “I’m going to put to our membership that they quit deciding how to react and just go forward. We’re going forward, this plane is going to take off and we’re going to see who’s onboard.”
Last week, in a follow-up, he acknowledged that his strategy will consist of “convincing, persuading, cajoling and making recommendations.”
Big 12 officials, including the board of directors, will be discussing issues related to “conference membership,” according to the agenda. With Missouri and Nebraska at the center of Big Ten expansion scenarios, some fret that the Big 12 will be cannibalized for parts.
Expect Beebe to push conference loyalty. One possibility, he acknowledged, would be legislation that would stiffen the penalties for schools to exit.
In a normal situation, the Big 12 should be celebrating its successes since it began play just 14 years ago. Conference teams have reached the BCS title game seven times. Big 12 teams have won 34 national championships.
So why does the conference find itself vulnerable?
For one, the Big Ten’s need for attractive markets to boost its TV network.
Part of the reason might be the forces that forged the merger of four Southwest Conference teams with the Big 12.
Beebe offered a theory.
“There hasn’t been one generation that has grown up with the Big 12,” Beebe said. “The perceived instability is linked to that as much as anything. For alumni and fans who are in the prime of their lives, this wasn’t the conference they grew up with. It takes time to cement those relationships and rivalries.”
One selling point for the Big 12 will be a possible TV rights and football scheduling alliance with the Pac-10 that would blanket the U.S. west of the Mississippi River.
Beebe began discussions last summer and continued the talks in September with new Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott. The possible partnership will be part of the agenda in Kansas City.
In a recent interview in Dallas, Kansas University athletic director Lew Perkins expressed confidence in Beebe.
“Everybody has to have patience,” Perkins said. “This is very serious stuff. I think we need to be very careful not to overreact. We must make sure we have all the facts and make sure we know what we’re doing and make sure we’re communicating with each other.”
But he realizes not everybody could look at the conference situation the same way. Teams must want to stay.
“If some people want to leave?” Perkins said. “It’s like a kid transferring from a school. You can’t do anything about it.”