KANSAS CITY — Like the song says, breaking up is hard to do. Whether the Big 12 schools are committed to staying together is an open question in the eyes of commissioner Dan Beebe.
"There's a lot of interest by a lot of the athletic directors to try to get to the same goal I have — some sort of conclusion on the commitment of all institutions," Beebe said Wednesday during the league's spring meetings. "I just don't know if that's possible or not. The presidents and the board are the ones who have to answer that."
League presidents will meet with athletic directors Thursday and then get together behind closed doors for more discussions. The meetings will conclude with further meetings by presidents on Friday and what some hope will be a final resolution to the turmoil stemming from the Big Ten's announcement that it is studying expansion from 11 members — and Big 12 members Nebraska and Missouri saying they might be interested.
"I think your story is going to come when the presidents are here," Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne told reporters Wednesday.
Asked directly if the Huskers would leave for the more lucrative Big Ten, Osborne shrugged.
"It's important to understand I don't think the Big Ten knows what they're going to do," he said. "They might add one (school), they may add three, they may add five. So we have no indication right now even what's going to happen."
Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said little when cornered by reporters.
"Missouri's a proud member of the Big 12," he said. "We have been for some time. We look forward to the future."
If the Big 12 does break up, every school is carefully checking what options it might have going forward.
For some, such as Oklahoma and Texas, the possibilities would be good. For those in more sparsely populated states such as Kansas and Iowa, the future might not seem nearly so bright.
"This is serious, serious, serious," Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins said.
Osborne said Nebraska has no desire to leave the Big 12. Nevertheless, the Huskers and Missouri could make more money as Big Ten members and both have been unhappy with many things in the Big 12. Missouri does not like the unequal revenue distribution that favors schools making the most football television appearances.
Nebraska is resentful of the apparent drift toward making Dallas the permanent site of the conference football championship game. That's a long drive for Husker fans who would like to see the game alternated between Dallas and Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium.
"We like the Big 12. We're not looking to leave. We're not mad at anybody. We're not upset about anything," Osborne said. "So those things will all be decided hopefully (Thursday). But before too long."
Texas A&M's Bill Byrne was also hopeful the presidents could decide something, although others did not share his optimism.
"From A&M's perspective, we want the Big 12 to stay together," Byrne said. "I think our meetings tomorrow when we have the presidents and chancellors who are going to make decisions will be very interesting. My hope is once we finish those, we should be coming out and saying we're in this together.
"I think we need to have some plans and I think those are being developed right now as to ways we can keep the conference together."
Any school that does leave will pay dearly. If a school gives two years' notice, it will be penalized 50 percent of its share of conference revenues for those two years. The penalty would increase with less notice given, up to 90 percent.
Adding to the uncertainty have been reports that Colorado, which recruits heavily in California, might be open to an invitation to join the Pac-10, which has also indicated it might expand.
"Colorado has been committed to the Big 12 Conference all along," Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn said. "However, when there's so much uncertainty out there, you have to begin to think about what that means for potential challenges down the road. It will be great having the presidents and chancellors with us tomorrow."
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione and president David Boren have been outspoken in their desire to keep the Big 12 together. Boren was recently quoted as saying Missouri and Nebraska would one day regret a decision to go to the Big Ten.
"I think our league is structured well enough and has been strong enough to withstand a lot of the conjecture and speculation that's out there," Castiglione said. "It doesn't mean we're overlooking it. But we're thinking more about what we have and what we can do in the future than what we don't have."