Just 10 months ago, they feared being turned into intercollegiate orphans -- castouts who were unwanted by any major conference.
Now, thanks to a rich, new cable TV deal, Kansas, Kansas State and the rest of what came to be known as the "Forgotten Five" are sitting pretty. Their future as major players in big-time college sports seems assured.
"We've certainly had our ups and downs and there were a lot of hypothetical scenarios," Kansas State athletic director John Currie said.
The Big 12 and Fox Sports announced a 13-year deal Wednesday that officials say will ensure the long-term stability of every member of the league. The deal, which starts with the 2012 football season, will pay the league about $90 million a year when averaged over the length of the contract.
In addition, the Big 12 also has a deal with ABC-ESPN running through 2015-16 that will pay about $65 million a year.
It appeared last summer that the Big 12 could be breaking up. The major football schools, led by Texas and Oklahoma, were being courted by the SEC and the expansion-minded Pac-10. Nebraska was on its way to the Big Ten. Colorado was leaving for the Pac-10.
If the Big 12 had disintegrated, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Missouri and Baylor would have been in crisis. No other BCS conference had indicated any interest in them. After meeting together in an emergency session, the "Forgotten Five" even offered to pay a part of their conference revenues to Texas to persuade the Longhorns not to leave.
"It looked like there was a chance it would not stay together," Kansas associate athletic director Jim Marchiony said. "But we knew a year ago that Fox was very, very interested in the Big 12 even without Nebraska and Colorado. No, Fox was not interested in a four-team or a five-team conference."
But the Big 12, with 10 members instead of 12, held together on commissioner Dan Beebe's promise of a football television deal down the road. On Wednesday, Beebe delivered.
"It's gone from uncertain to what it is now: a strong, vibrant leader in college athletics," Marchiony said.
Beebe said the Fox contract positions the 10-team league favorably with other major conferences.
The 12-team SEC generated $205 million from TV rights last year and the 12-team Big Ten $220 million. The Pac-10, which becomes the Pac-12 this year, made only $60 million on TV rights but is working on a new television package that would include its own network.
Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton said the commitment the remaining 10 schools showed to each other last summer is being rewarded.
"Some did not believe us at that time," Deaton said. "Now, we have voted unanimously to endorse this agreement -- a demonstration of the commitment we made."
Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said the Big 12 has "emerged united and robust and with tremendous forward momentum."
Kansas State president Kirk Schulz called the TV package a historic step and Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said the contract validates why the league's media partners encouraged the remaining schools to stay together.
"Through this agreement, the Big 12 institutions will generate per-member revenue at the highest levels of college athletics," he said.
The 40 Big 12 regular-season games that will be carried by Fox nearly doubles the number under the current agreement. Many telecasts will be distributed on FSN, which reaches more than 85 million homes. Several other games also will be scheduled on FX, which is in 99 million households, the network said.
Every Big 12 home football game will be broadcast on ABC, a Fox network or by institutional platforms such as Texas' new Longhorn Network. Big 12 schools will have the option to retain rights to one home football game per season for distribution on their own networks.
Beebe said Fox would decide which games to make available to individual school networks.
Texas and ESPN recently announced a 20-year, $300 million deal for a 24-hour network that will broadcast Longhorns sports, including at least one football game and eight basketball games per season, and other sports and academic content. Oklahoma is studying the possibility of creating its own network.
"This landmark agreement positions the conference with one of the best television arrangements in collegiate sports," Beebe said. "It exceeds the benchmarks as we move forward with our 10 members by providing significant revenue growth, increased exposure while allowing institutions to retain selected rights.
"Most importantly, the agreement signifies the long-term commitment of the member institutions to one another."