As Colorado and Nebraska paddled out of sight and four more schools prepared to board lifeboats bound for calmer waters, the captain of the storm-ravaged Big 12 wearily addressed the state of his sinking ship.
Commissioner Dan Beebe held a teleconference Friday afternoon, seemingly trying to convince even himself that he could hold the Big 12 together. He highlighted the value of the conference's remaining members, desperately urging them to commit to a 10-school league even amid reports that Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State have already decided to leave for the Pac-10.
"I'm going all the way to the final whistle and I have every intention of holding together the 10 we have," Beebe said. "I'm playing it out as hard and fast as I can and I'm doing the best I can to get them to understand what they would give up by leaving and what they have by staying."
It's commendable that Beebe hasn't given up on the Big 12, but it's also important to remember that he deserves some of the blame for the speed at which the conference has disintegrated. Big 12 leadership has made decisions that limited the conference's TV revenue and led to mistrust among member schools, giving the likes of Nebraska, Colorado and Missouri incentive to leave.
They passed up the chance to launch their own TV network in 2007. They negotiated a TV contract that lags well behind the Big Ten and SEC. And because Texas annually receives the biggest share of the Big 12's TV revenue and the conference title game in football has relocated to Dallas, there's also a perception among some fans that Beebe has favored the Longhorns.
Not all of the blame should fall on Beebe since unrest among Big 12 schools definitely predated the start of his tenure in 2007, but he definitely could have been more proactive once realignment became a looming threat. Surprisingly, however, Beebe insisted Friday that he wouldn't change anything when asked if he'd have done anything differently during his three-year tenure.
"I raised every possible scenario and issue I could think of and ones that all of you have raised," Beebe said.
It's no surprise that Beebe continues to defend himself and his conference because his background exudes toughness. The 6-foot-2 Washington was a football captain at Cal Poly Pomona and then later played rugby internationally, so he knows how to push and shove his way out of a scrum.
Beebe earned a torrent of praise as a hard-working, straightforward leader when the Big 12 promoted him to succeed outgoing commissioner Kevin Weiberg in 2007. Prior to joining the Big 12, he served as Ohio Valley Conference Commissioner from 1989 to 2003 and spearheaded the NCAA's investigation of SMU's football program that resulted in the Mustangs receiving the death penalty in 1987.
It's Beebe's conference that appears to be dying now, with the four members of the Big 12 South set to leave Tuesday barring a change of heart and Texas A&M pondering interest from the Big 12 and Pac-10. Even if Beebe is left with just five schools by the end of next week, he said he'll continue to work on their behalf until they tell him to give it up.
He just hopes that somehow, someway it doesn't come to that.
"There's a bright future if we remain together," he said.