KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Answers could come soon regarding the future of the Big 12 Conference.
Perhaps as early as Friday.
Even though an official announcement isn't expected for months, Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said fans should have a "better feel" for the direction of the league by the time the Big 12's spring meetings conclude at the end of the week.
The first two days of the gathering, which began Tuesday, were attended by athletic directors from each of the conference's 12 universities. School presidents will be on hand for the final two sessions on Thursday and Friday.
"I'm not trying to push it off on the presidents," Osborne said. "But essentially, those are the guys that are going to have to make the decision on what happens.
"The presidents will make some sort of decision by Friday, I would think. It may be yes, no or somewhere in between."
For months now speculation has centered on the possibility of Missouri and Nebraska leaving the Big 12 for an expanded Big Ten.
"It's important to understand that I don't think the Big Ten knows what it's going to do," Osborne said. "They may add one, they may add three, they may add five. We have no indication."
Nebraska, because of its rich tradition in football, would obviously be a major coup for any league. In the past Osborne has been critical of the possibility of permanently moving the Big 12 championship football game to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas instead of alternating it between there and Kansas City, which is just three hours from Lincoln.
"I made that comment, but I probably shouldn't have said anything," Osborne said. "Those are not things that are major problems for Nebraska."
If anything, Osborne sounded as if Nebraska was leaning toward remaining in the Big 12. He said people are making too much over the school's proclamation that it would listen if the Big Ten called to inquire about the Huskers making the jump.
Osborne was asked if he thought the league would remain intact.
"I think there's a very good chance that it will," he said. "We like the Big 12. We're not looking to leave. We're not mad at anybody. We're not upset about anything."
Missouri, another potential target of the Big Ten, has expressed displeasure over the Big 12's uneven revenue-sharing methods, which favor the schools that make the most television appearances.
A year ago Big 12 schools earned between $7 million and $12 million depending on how many appearances they made on regional and national TV. The Big Ten, which has reaped in part from its own cable network, paid each of its schools more than $20 million.
Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe said the conference doesn't intend to alter the way it shares revenue, although he's hopeful the league will be able to work a deal similar to the Big Ten's and the $1.86 billion contract the ACC recently signed with ESPN. The deal will nearly double its schools' television revenue.
"It shows me that the market is really good out there," Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said. "We should consider working really hard to stay together so we can generate the revenue that those folks did, and even more.
"Arguably, we're one of the top two conferences in the nation. It'd be foolish from our perspective to consider break that up."
Missouri athletic director Mike Alden wasn't nearly as candid when surrounded by reporters Wednesday.
"Missouri is a proud member of the Big 12," he said. "We have been for a long time. We look forward to the future."
Beebe said it would "optimistic" to think schools would have a definite answer about their future by Friday. But at the very least, he hopes to have a better feel for what may lie ahead.
"I don't think [the Big 12 breaking up] is that realistic," he said. "I think we're going to be intact and we're going to move forward, and I think it's going to be with the 12 institutions we have.
"At the same time, I'd be foolish if I only relied on that feeling and that base of information, so I’m planning any possible contingencies that may come into play."
While Missouri and Nebraska are the two schools creating the most buzz, the possibility of Colorado defecting to the Pac-10 has also been mentioned. But the feeling is that that would only happen if the Big 12 lost some of its high-profile members.
"When there's so much uncertainty out there, you have to begin to think about what that means for potential challenges down the road," Buffaloes athletic director Mike Bohn said. "It will be great having the presidents and chancellors with us tomorrow."
"Remember what the job of an athletic director is," he said. "We're all very mercenary. Our job is to protect our own institution, so everyone has their own best interests in mind. From A&M's perspective, the best interest I think we can have is to keep the Big 12 Conference together."
- Big 12 Conference