Texas' key: Keeping media rights

AUSTIN, Texas -- Looking for the savior of the Big 12?
Follow the money.

Assurances that the big television money will soon be coming to
the leaner Big 12 pulled the league back from the dead, officials
with schools and the league said Tuesday.

With Colorado (Pac-10) and Nebraska (Big Ten) leaving in the
next two years and the Pac-10 making a hard sell to Texas and four
other schools to join them, the promises -- not guarantees -- of
bigger checks in the future finally persuaded the Longhorns and the
others to stay put.

"This is a long-term and unequivocal commitment," Texas
president William Powers Jr. said Tuesday. "We've decided the Big
12 provides the best long-term opportunity for our university."

According to IRS tax records examined by The Associated Press, the
Big 12 paid out between $8.7 million and $15.4 million per school in
2008-09, with Kansas State getting the smallest payout and Oklahoma
the biggest. The Big 12's television deal with Fox expires in 2012,
and a more lucrative contract with ESPN runs through the 2015-16
academic year.

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said no new TV deals have been
struck, but he has "extremely strong verification, based on our
analysis with our consultants and others, and media companies
themselves, that we are in a tremendous position to execute future
agreements that will put our member institutions on par with any in
the country." He did not provide any numbers during a conference
call with reporters.

"The Big 12 approached us asking if we would maintain our
current agreement through its term of 2015-16, and we agreed," said
Josh Krulewitz, vice president for communications for ESPN.

A Fox Sports Net spokesman said that no new deal had been
reached, but there would be ongoing discussions.

The Big 12 has increased the financial reward for every one of
its members since it began play in 1996. It distributed $139
million to its members this past fiscal year, more than ever.

Texas, already the richest and most powerful of the Big 12
schools, is convinced it can make even more money in a 10-team

"The Big 12 [television] package is going to be every bit as
good as any other conference," Texas athletic director DeLoss
Dodds said. "We are in good shape on the television side."

And by staying in the Big 12, Texas can explore whether it
should start its own Longhorns TV network. If it had moved to the
Pac-10, Texas would have had to surrender its media rights.

Texas women's athletic director Chris Plonsky said the network,
which would broadcast Texas sports and other university events,
should bring in "millions" to the school.

Texas isn't the only Big 12 school looking
into whether it should start its own TV network.

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said Tuesday that the
Sooners also are interested in the possibility and already have
invested $3 million in a high-definition video facility on campus
but do not have a time frame for launching the operation.

"A channel takes some time to launch, takes some time to
develop, whether it's our conference or our own," Castiglione
said. "That's everything from programming to getting penetration
into the markets, and so on."

Castiglione said Oklahoma has consulted with Texas as both
schools examine the possibilities, but the two are not considering a
joint venture. Texas agreed to stay in the Big 12 this week in part
after getting assurances that it retains local media rights,
including the possibility of a Longhorns network.

"We have discussed the concept of a channel with them. We're
not in business together," Castiglione said. "That's not it at
all. I don't want to give you that impression.

"We've been studying it. They've been studying it. ... We'd
both like to be aggressive and that part of our DNA to be

Such a channel would not prevent the creation of a conference

Most football and men's basketball games couldn't be shown live
on Oklahoma's own channel because of national TV contracts
through the Big 12. But the channel could broadcast games in those
sports that aren't picked up, along with others from the school's
21 sports.

Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder said his school
also looked into creating a network, but "it doesn't look like it
would be a revenue generator for us. It would be a capital loss."

"Even if you're the University of Texas and there are a lot of
people nationwide that follow that brand, it's still tough to make
a go of it," Holder said.

"If you're Oklahoma State, obviously with a smaller enrollment,
a smaller population base in the state, no big metropolitan areas,
it would be very, very difficult to make a go of it. We'd probably
be more interested in doing things on our website, live streaming
and things like that, than doing a network."

Some of the league's smaller schools are giving up cash for the
promise of keeping the league together and more money later.

Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State and Missouri -- which were
in danger of being left homeless if the conference dissolved --
agreed to give up their share in buyout penalties to be paid by
Nebraska and Colorado for leaving the league, Beebe said.

The idea is to have that money go to Texas, Texas A&M and
Oklahoma, the schools the Big 12 needed to stay to remain viable,
to make up for the difference in revenue those three might have
made going elsewhere.

The amount of the penalties has not been disclosed, but Colorado
athletic director Mike Bohn confirmed that his school's penalty for
leaving the Big 12 "could be" around $9 million.

"We'll work with our new conference with some type of finance
agreement," Bohn said. "The Pac-10 will not assist in any
contributions toward the buyout. But they've indicated a
willingness to help us finance the agreement [to join]."

Late Tuesday, Missouri officials said they have not agreed to
give up their share of the buyout penalties.

"In no way do we expect to be hurt financially," Missouri
chancellor Brady Deaton said.

State officials in Kansas weren't talking much Tuesday about the
concessions, referring questions to the Big 12 or saying that details
might take weeks to work out. Several said Kansas and Kansas State
are likely to do significantly better financially in a slimmer Big
12 even with the concessions than they would be searching for new

"You're weighing your costs and your gains," said former Lt.
Gov. Gary Sherrer, vice chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents,
which oversees both Kansas and Kansas State.

He added: "One thing we know is that being in a premier
conference is not only important financially for the athletic
programs, but it really has a lot to do with the recruitment of
students, maintaining strong support from alums and donors."

Big 12 assistant commissioner Bob Burda responded that the 10
schools will share "all withdrawal fees withheld from Colorado and
Nebraska," calling the earlier talks about uneven distribution of
the penalty a "good-faith offer."

Beebe insisted the Big 12's decision to stick together was about
more than money.

"A strong, strong consideration ... by the institutions to
remain is the association of these schools, the fact that college
athletics is very much a regional, regionally supported endeavor,
and that it would be a great travesty for this part of this country
if it's major institutions located with conferences that aren't in
this region," Beebe said.

Holder said Pac-10
commissioner Larry Scott and deputy Kevin Weiberg extended an offer
to five schools that "was contingent on everyone agreeing to move.
You had to have unanimity.

"We never got together on a conference call, the five athletic
directors. We never had a meeting anywhere. We
never really had a chance to get to that point because by the time
the presentation had been made to the five schools, one of the
schools decided that they liked where they were a lot better, so
they opted to stay."

Texas A&M's flirtations with the Southeastern Conference had
threatened to pull apart a 100-year rivalry with Texas.

"We committed to the Big 12 before we knew what Texas A&M was
going to do. We are delighted Texas and Texas A&M will be in the
same conference," Powers said.

One thing that still could fracture the conference is hurt
feelings. Missouri officials had hoped for an invitation to the Big
Ten, and other less influential members might not appreciate the
top-down nature of the conference.

"We live in athletics," Dodds said. "We beat each other up on
Saturdays, we hug each other on Sunday."

Beebe said there are no plans to expand the conference, leaving
the Big 12 with 10 teams to play a nine-game football schedule and
do away with the conference championship game.

And what about that conference name? Can a league with 10 teams
call itself the Big 12?

"We'll consult the Big Ten on that," Dodds said, with a nod to
a league that now has 12 teams.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.