KANSAS CITY — The future of the Big 12 was in question when the conference held its spring meetings a year ago.
But with the promise of a rich new football television contract which commissioner Dan Beebe delivered in the form of a $1.17 billion deal with Fox, the league held together except for Colorado and Nebraska.
The new TV deal averages about $9 million per school for the 13-year life of the contract. Before, they had been averaging about $1.8 million.
Now, as the trimmed-down conference opened its four-day gathering in the same luxury hotel as last year, there is an entirely different tone. Gone is last year's quarrelsome tone of crisis management. In its place seems an atmosphere of optimism.
The most urgent question last year was whether the Big 12 would break up. This year's urgent questions include when to stage the men's and women's basketball tournaments and whether to sponsor championships in equestrian and rowing.
In addition, they're talking about final adjustments in the rules and bylaws to accommodate 10 schools instead of 12.
"There are fewer media people here than last year. We couldn't get through that hallway last year," Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said with a grin.
Castiglione, the chairman of the Big 12's athletic directors, said the main object of this year's meetings is to focus on the future.
"If anything, today we came in focusing on the things that are going to make us stronger going forward," he said. "We've already dealt with a variety of transitional issues through the last 11 months. We're tweaking, fine-tuning if you will, some of those changes, formats and structures. A few changes to the manual, championship events, all of those types of things."
One of the more important changes still to be completed is rewriting the conference bylaws, specifically to tighten up language pertaining to penalties for withdrawal from league membership. Before a compromise was reached, Nebraska and the league appeared to be headed toward litigation on that point. Finally, the two sides agreed that the Huskers would be penalized $9.25 million for going to the Big Ten.
"A lot of it is just operational to go from 12 to 10 in a corporate bylaw structure," Beebe said. "Some of it is going to be more functional in terms of we're going to have a close review of what we've gone through last year in the withdrawal provisions, to make sure they're appropriate, how they should continue. It wasn't a secret. We had a dispute about that. We settled the dispute and everybody moved on. But those provisions were put in place in a different time and era and in a different legal environment."
Although it's not on the formal agenda, there's also certain to be plenty of conversation about the burgeoning scandal at Ohio State and the abrupt resignation of football coach Jim Tressel.
"Any time one of these situations happens, it's a big teaching moment for all of us about whether we are conducting our programs appropriately, whether there are the kind of measures that are going on at our campuses that can help detect what's going on," Beebe said. "On every campus, every time Ohio State or any of these things come on, they say, 'OK, what's going on here and how are we protected against this?' Or an AD telling the coaches, 'If you ever have a situation like this, by God, here is the way you need to react to it.'
But there's been no formal discussion about that."
Another topic will be whether to increase the amount of scholarship aid to athletes to include the full cost of attendance, something the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference have recently raised. There will be no formal action since such change can only be made by the NCAA.