A day that began with rumors of Missouri joining Texas A&M in bolting the Big 12 Conference for the SEC ended with one message: The Big 12 wants to stay together, preferably with A&M on board.
In a statement released Saturday night, the Big 12 said it “strongly conveyed to Texas A&M its unanimous desire that it remain a Big 12 member, and acknowledged its value to the Conference.” In addition, the statement said the league “is prepared to aggressively move forward to explore expansion opportunities” and “recognizes the strength of the Big 12 Conference national brand and the opportunity to capitalize on it.”
Later Saturday night, Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little released her own statement, which came after a conference call of Big 12 presidents and chancellors that followed a similar call between the Big 12’s athletic directors and commissioner Dan Beebe.
“The University of Kansas is committed to the Big 12 Conference and its success,” Gray-Little’s statement read. “We fully support the efforts of the conference to remain strong and competitive, including the active pursuit of additional membership in the event of a departure.”
Not surprisingly, Gray-Little’s words echoed those uttered by KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger on Friday.
“Sheahon Zenger and I have been in regular contact with conference board members, the commissioner and others to ensure KU’s interests are protected,” Gray-Little continued. “We are going to do what is in the best interest of the university (and) our student-athletes and fans. Maintaining a vibrant Big 12 is in KU’s best interests.”
KU’s two most visible leaders have worked closely together on this matter during the past few days.
As for the specifics of Saturday’s activity, sources with knowledge of the conference call between the ADs and Beebe told the Journal-World that the tone of the call was pleasant and more about solving the problem together than picking each other apart.
“I think nine (member schools) is an option,” UT AD DeLoss Dodds told Kirk Bohls of the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman. “I think nine are solid. I think 10’s a good number. In my mind, we’d try to stay at 10. If we had to, we’d go to 12.”
Sources said it was believed by all parties involved that the Big 12 would survive as long as everyone was up front and honest.
Because of its recent track record of wanting to leave the conference, one school that has to be looked at twice is Missouri. Despite rumors of Mizzou being bound for the SEC, several media outlets reported that the Tigers seemed committed to the Big 12. Asked by reporters if MU had entered into talks with the SEC, Missouri AD Mike Alden said: “No. The answer to your question is no. I want to make sure: no.”
With the Big 12 in turmoil yet again, administrators at other schools, such as BYU, Louisville and others, were called upon to answer whether they would be interested in joining the Big 12 should the opportunity present itself. Each gave the same answer: We’re happy with where we are.
With a meeting of Texas A&M’s board of regents looming Monday, and Texas lawmakers set to meet Tuesday, one source said the whole thing boils down to one simple truth. “If it’s A&M’s decision, they’d be gone. But nothing’s a done deal.”
One of the biggest reasons why is the presence of the Texas legislature, which has a strong interest in keeping Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech together.
Although some reports have indicated that Monday’s meeting of A&M’s board of regents could include a vote to accept an invitation from the SEC, no actual offer has been confirmed, and one Texas lawmaker said any such action would be frowned upon.
“It’s my understanding, based upon conversations with A&M officials, that the A&M Board of Regents is meeting to authorize the president to enter into negotiations with the SEC, assuming the SEC extends an offer to A&M to join the conference,” Rep. Dan Branch said. “It is not my understanding that they are meeting to complete or accept an offer to the SEC. To finalize such an action before giving legislators a chance to ask some questions would be inappropriate, highly inappropriate.”