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Big 12 basketball hopes for a save

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As much as it could alter the direction of various football programs around the league, the demise of the Big 12 may have an even greater impact on the basketball court.

That's why hoops coaches across the conference smiled when a report surfaced indicating the Big 12 may survive after all.

"When you have a conference doing as well as we are, there's no reason to change it," Baylor coach Scott Drew said.

That's the overwhelming sentiment among the Big 12's 10 remaining coaches. Although some have been instructed not to talk on the record, the buzz is that almost all of them are strongly opposed to breaking up what remains of the league.

Not that they have much say in the matter.

"It's a football-driven business," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "The rest of us are just here for the ride."

And what a ride it's been.

For most of the 2009-10 season the Big 12 was ranked No. 1 in the RPI in men's basketball. The league has sent a national-best 16 teams to the Elite Eight during the past 10 years. And only one other conference – the 16-team Big East – has had more teams reach the Sweet 16.

Yet by the end of this week, the four Big 12 programs with the most momentum may be waving goodbye to most of their conference counterparts. Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri should all be ranked in the Top 15 or 20 of nearly every preseason poll this fall.

None of them, though, have received invites to join other leagues. Colorado, meanwhile, announced last week that it was leaving for the Pac-10 and Nebraska is headed for the Big Ten.

Texas A&M is reportedly leaning toward the SEC while Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are likely to join the Pac-10 unless conference commissioner Dan Beebe can convince them to reverse course.

"It's a very nervous time," Kansas coach Bill Self said.

And a confusing one for the Jayhawks, who seem surprised that their tradition-rich basketball program hasn't generated more interest from various leagues. Kansas' football team is also just two years removed from a 12-1 record and a victory over Virginia Tech in the 2008 Orange Bowl.

"To think … the inventor of the game [James Naismith] was our first coach," Self told reporters last week, "and the father of basketball coaching [Phog Allen] was our second coach. He coached Adolph Rupp, and he coached Dean Smith – and Wilt Chamberlain played here.

"We've won three NCAA championships, five total … and to think we could be left out, at least initially. It's pretty tough to stomach, to be quite candid."

Although it was ignored in the preliminary conversations, Kansas could be a candidate to join the Pac-10 if Texas A&M rejects the conference's offer and joins the SEC.

Schools such as Baylor and Kansas State, however, are clinging to even less hope. Both schools reached the Elite Eight last spring and are expected to be ranked in the preseason Top 10 this fall.

Maintaining that kind of success, however, could be difficult if Self, Drew and Martin don't have the Big 12 carrot to dangle in front of recruits. Signing prospects such as Josh Selby (Kansas) or Perry Jones (Baylor) may not be as easy if you tell them they're going to be playing against competition from the Mountain West.

Surely schools from BCS conferences would use that against them in recruiting.

Martin and Drew noted that schools such as Memphis and Gonzaga have been mainstays in the Top 25 despite competing in a non-BCS league. But that doesn't mean it’s easy.

"It's all part of the recruiting process," Martin said. "The schools in the Big 12 are attractive. When we recruit, that's a big part of the pitch. Whenever you play at our place, there are going to be 13,000 maniacs in there. And every time you play a road conference game, it’s going to be a crazy atmosphere.

"The funny part of this is that he NCAA makes all its profits from the NCAA tournament. It's an interesting dynamic."

Although coaches from schools such as Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma have been instructed not to speak on the matter, there is a concern among them that playing against schools in the Pac-10 would cause an academic strain on their athletes.

Instead of an easy road trip to Waco, Texas or a quick plane flight to Lawrence, Kan., the southern schools would be forced to fly to Pullman, Wash. or Eugene, Ore. in the middle of the week.

Even for high-profile teams that charter planes and take direct flights, the trips would be a headache. And things would be even worse for athletes who compete in Olympic sports such as track or tennis. They take commercial flights and often have to make connections, which usually results in longer and more tiresome travel.

All of it, coaches fear, will result in a slew of missed classes and an eventual decline in each team's APR (Academic Progress Rate), which could cost teams scholarships.

"At the end of the day, this is supposed to be about the student-athlete," said one coach who asked not to be identified. "If we agree to this we're going to be putting those kids in some bad situations."

The good news for Big 12 basketball coaches was a report on Orangebloods.com that indicated that Big 12 may still have a chance.

According to the article, Beebe snared the interest of the schools seeking to bolt by assuring them they'd receive approximately $17 million each year under a new TV deal that would also allow them to pursue their own networks.

Just when it seemed as if Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech were ready to leave for the Pac-10, there is some hope that they'll at least consider Beebe's plan before making a decision.

Reports hinted that Texas A&M had all but decided to leave for the SEC, but even if the Aggies moved on, the possibility of the Big 12 adding new teams would be in play.

The bottom line: The Big 12 could be all but dead in the next 48-72 hours. Or things may remain vastly the same.

The conference's basketball coaches are crossing their fingers for the latter.

"I know what great pride every coach took in helping make the Big 12 Conference the No. 1-ranked conference in the country," Drew said. "I also know every coach values the rivalries and tradition the Big 12 provides. Kids want to play against the best. We have that here.

"That's why I and the other coaches I've spoken with want to stay in the Big 12. It's not broken. There's no need to fix it."