KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Commissioner Dan Beebe had hoped to douse speculation about a Big 12 breakup by making sure "we're all on the same plane when it takes off."
Instead, everybody went home in 12 separate taxis.
After four days of meetings, the future of the 14-year-old league seemed perhaps less secure than ever. Beebe and many of his colleagues hoped the spring meetings would end with a declaration of unbreakable solidarity. That didn't happen.
All Beebe could do Friday was say he's an optimistic fellow by nature and that a "process" had been put in place by Big 12 presidents to ensure the long-term viability of a conference that has greatly increased revenue for its members, but still not kept pace in television dollars with the other big boys.
"I am comfortable," Beebe said. "There's still a process we're going through but based on the conversations we had I think we're in a very good position."
He would not discuss how the process will keep the Big 12 intact.
Out of the East is a threat from the Big Ten, perhaps interested in luring away Nebraska, Missouri and Texas. In the West, the Pac-10 may be eyeing Colorado and a group of Texas schools. And would the Southeastern Conference sit still while the Big Ten and Pac-10 start feeding on the Big 12 like hyenas at a kill?
Nebraska and Missouri triggered talk of a Big 12 breakup by indicating they would be interested in talking to the expansion-minded Big Ten. Then on Thursday, a blog report went through these meetings like a lightning bolt with word that the Pac-10 planned to invite six Big 12 schools and create two eight-team divisions. Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn later said he thought the report was valid, and Beebe and Texas president Bill Powers decided to cancel their scheduled news conference.
In addition, The Associated Press confirmed on Friday that the Big Ten is interested in pursuing Texas, the richest, most influential Big 12 school and acknowledged lynchpin of the entire league.
Ohio State president Gordon Gee told Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany in an April 20 e-mail that Gee had spoken with Powers. Gee said Powers would welcome a call.
Powers was also scheduled to be at Friday's news conference with Beebe, but was not.
The driving issue of all the expansion talk is money, and the possibility of schools greatly boosting revenue by adding to their inventory of television homes.
The drop-dead date may be October, the next time the Big 12 presidents meet. It could hardly be longer away than February, when they meet just before Beebe begins negotiations on a new cable deal with Fox.
As a sales pitch to keep the league together, Beebe spent the week explaining that he expected huge increases in rights fees from both Fox and ESPN. Unfortunately for those wanting to keep the Big 12 intact, its more lucrative contract with ESPN runs through the 2015-16 academic year.
The greatly staggered contract dates are not working in the Big 12's favor as it seeks to keep up with other leagues.
"We have had analysis and projections that look like we're going to be every bit as well compensated in the future," Beebe said.
Under their present television deals, Big 12 members received between $7 million and $10 million each last year, depending on how many appearances each school made. The Big Ten, enriched by its Big Ten cable network, distributed some $22 million to each member last season.
An expanded Pac-10 could launch its own TV network and command huge money. Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado were said to be on the Pac-10's shopping list. If they take that deal and Nebraska and Missouri go to the Big Ten, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State would be in danger of not belonging to a BCS league – a crisis for those institutions.
"We are committed to our membership in the Big 12, and we are optimistic that the conference will remain intact," Iowa State president Gregory Geoffroy and athletic director Jamie Pollard said in a letter to their fans and alumni.
"However, we also recognize that the long-term viability of the Big 12 Conference is not in our control, it is in the hands of just a few of our fellow member institutions."
The Big 12 has increased the financial reward for every one of its members since it began play in 1996 with four members of the Southwest Conference and the old Big Eight Conference. Texas led the nation with $138.45 million in total sports revenues in 2008, according to the most recent Education Department figures.
That was almost $20 million more than No. 2 Ohio State and more than $50 million ahead of Oklahoma, which was second in the Big 12 and 12th nationally with $81.4 million.
While making his case for the Big 12 viability, Beebe proudly announced that the Big 12 had distributed $139 million to its members this past fiscal year, more than ever. But almost simultaneously, the SEC announced a payout of $209 million.