Big 12 remains a fluid situation

Dan Tracy

The exits of Nebraska and Colorado from the Big 12 Conference in the summer of 2010 shook up not only the teams of the conference but the entire college athletics landscape.

The discussion of 16-team super conferences with their own multi-billion dollar TV contracts and conference championship games at the nation’s largest sporting venues inched closer to becoming a reality.

The summer of 2011 has now passed and no other teams from the Big 12 decided to leave the now 10-team conference. But that’s not to say one of the Big 12’s teams isn’t still interested in leaving the conference.

On Aug. 11, the site reported that Texas A&M was preparing to leave the Big 12 and move to the SEC.

The report, which relied on an unnamed source, also stated that the university would announce the decision on Aug. 22. A similar report two days later was given by ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb, who also cited an unnamed source at Texas A&M, who said the school was intent on leaving the Big 12 and had regretted not leaving during last summer’s realignment of the conference.

Over the last two weeks, confirmations and denials of the report have surfaced from news sources such as the Sporting News and The New York Times, but no official statement from the Big 12 has been released.

Roadblocks for the Aggies, if they did decide to leave the conference, include the SEC’s desire for a 14th team — if Texas A&M joined the SEC, the league would have only 13 teams — and backing out of the 13-year $1.17 billion television deal that the Big 12 signed with FOX in April.

Teams that have been mentioned as possibly filling that role as a 14th team include ACC schools Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson, Louisville of the Big East and another Big 12 team in Missouri.

Missouri’s athletic director Mike Alden told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch “No, no, no” to the claims Missouri may be on the way out, and both Florida State and Clemson’s athletic directors denied any reports of leaving the ACC.

As for the TV deal, Colorado agreed to pay $6.83 million and Nebraska $9.25 million out of the Big 12’s previous TV deal, but the numbers for Texas A&M to settle have been projected to be as high as $28 million.

In turn, a school like Iowa State, which has the lowest athletic budget of any team in the Big 12, finds itself in an interesting predicament with its conference membership dwindling. ISU football coach Paul Rhoads was asked about Texas A&M’s possible departure on Aug. 13, hours after ESPN’s released report confirming A&M planned to leave the conference.

“I don’t mean to just give you a pat answer, but I’ve got no say in it,” Rhoads said. “They’re not going to ask me and quite frankly they’re not going to ask Jamie Pollard what’s next and what should we do, so all I can worry about is the Iowa State football team and preparing them.”

ISU Athletic Director Jamie Pollard has declined any comment on Big 12 realignment this summer, but during the conference realignment talks last summer, he reiterated that he believes the Big 12 Conference is the “perfect fit” for Iowa State.