Dan Beebe

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and former commissioner Dan Beebe addressed the state of the conference in a panel moderated by UT advertising lecturer Joel Lulla. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Much like a closely followed celebrity, the Big 12 Conference basks in the sunlight of collegiate sports, marked by rumors of expansion and new additions. 

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, former Commissioner Dan Beebe and Deputy Commissioner Tim Weiser addressed conference realignment, NCAA postseason changes and the future of the Big 12 at a panel Tuesday. 

Bowlsby, who was named full-time commissioner in May 2012, was riding a golf cart to and from work as athletic director at Stanford University when he was offered the commissioner position. Taking the reins of a conference in the midst of realignments that included losses of Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M and the addition of TCU and West Virginia was his challenge. 

Bowlsby said the conference will tend to geographic challenges in the upcoming season by strategically scheduling games to accommodate teams that may have to travel further.   

“Geography still matters and one of the things that’s gone by the wayside during the course of this expansion is a lot of the traditional rivalries,” Bowlsby said. “You can imagine how people would feel if we went to 16 teams if it meant Texas and OU wouldn’t play each other one year.”

Expanding the conference to potentially include 12 teams is not something the Big 12, despite its name, is currently focused on, Bowlsby said.

“There are a lot of strengths in smaller numbers, and we’re going to be thoughtful about it,” Bowlsby said. “We’re ten for a considerable decision to stay [at] ten, and I expect that until we’re persuaded otherwise, that’s where we’ll stay.”

Weiser, who took on his current role after seven years as athletics director at Kansas State University, said missed classes for student athletes and tough travel times are issues that continue to be smoothed out.

“With TCU, integration has been fairly predictable and fairly smooth,” Weiser said. “With West Virginia, I’m not sure we’ve gotten to a place that we’ve successfully answered those challenges.”

Beebe, who served as commissioner from 2007 to 2011 and departed as the conference sought to stabilize itself during realignments, said the connection between students and alumni is a consideration for teams as they decide to stay or switch conferences. 

“I think when you detach institutions from the place where they primarily get their students and where their alumni go to live and work, it’s never a comfortable situation,” Beebe said.

The panel also discussed the addition of a four-team playoff in the postseason of college football, which was approved in June 2012 and will start in 2014.

“We’ve been able to embrace the best characteristics of the bowl system, and I think the four-team playoff with a selection committee is the right way to do that,” Bowlsby said. “We still have some things to work out, but I think this playoff format has a chance to be a great thing for the players and the institution.”

DALLAS — If it were all about maximizing revenue, the Big 12 as it had existed until two years ago may have been saved, said former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe.

“If they had done what I had advocated for two years ago, then I don’t think any of the institutions, including Nebraska or Colorado would have had any reason to cite the reasons they did to leave,” Beebe said.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Beebe said college sports world’s two-year obsession with conference realignment was a snowball effect starting with the Big Ten and Pac-10 conference’s desires to expand. The perception of instability in Beebe’s Big 12 that followed led to a constant round of speculation as to which pieces in the conference would fall next. Beebe maintains that, had schools given his policy a shot as well as waited for his assessment of the Longhorn Network, Texas’ controversial $300 million television deal with ESPN, the conference had the ability to remain stable.

“My first year in the conference, I advocated for more equitable revenue sharing, and also two years ago I advocated for sharing media rights more, or at least defining which rights the conference had to sell and which ones the institutions maintained,” he said. “Unfortunately [the original Big 12 teams] didn’t take those actions.”

Then why didn’t the other schools just agree to his plan and save two years of headache? Beebe said the Big 12 was one of the few conferences that wanted to give schools the right to broadcast some of its own games. This is why its teams were able to move around so easily, because unlike in the other conferences where the television rights were handed to the conference leaders, the schools in the Big 12 had more power.

“It was against how the Big 12 always operated, where the commissioner had to go negotiate a deal first and the schools would decide whether to vote for the deal, rather than like in the Big Ten or Pac-12 where the rights were all granted to the conference,” he said. “In all the other conferences frankly, the commissioners have the rights to sell, and there isn’t this negotiation between the schools and the conference to see what they are going to take to the marketplace.”

The conference recently agreed to a right-sharing deal similar to the one Beebe proposed two years ago that will allow it to share tier-one and tier-two television revenue equally. This means that a school turns over the television rights to its best football and basketball games to the conference. If, for instance, Missouri, wanted to leave for the SEC — which continues to be an object speculation — the Big 12 would still make money off of the games it would play against powerhouse teams like Florida, Alabama, LSU or any other team in the conference. The Big 12’s new deal is a six-year commitment.

Nebraska and Colorado left the conference in 2010, followed by Texas A&M this summer. While Nebraska said they left on the grounds of receiving a higher television payday from the Big Ten, the Aggies left because of Texas’ business deal with ESPN.

“Texas A&M didn’t leave because of money, because we were able to demonstrate that they were in line for as much, if not more money in the Big 12,” Beebe said. “[Texas A&M] cited issues with the Longhorn Network. I wish that we would have had a chance to address specifically what they wouldn’t wanted to have happened with that before they went and had meetings with the Southeastern Conference. The issues they were raising were things we would have dealt with most part.“

One of those issues was the Longhorn Network’s intentions to air high school football games, which Texas A&M representatives believed would have given the Longhorns an unfair recruiting advantage. The NCAA recently banned the Longhorn Network from showing high school games, as per its policy, and Beebe said he would have addressed that issue regardless. Beebe received heat from the media and a few university leaders around the conference for a perceived bias towards Texas, which he denies.

“All I ever did was what I thought was best for the overall conference,” Beebe said. “A number of things that I raised and advocated for would have helped Texas, sure, but a number of things I pushed for weren’t great for Texas. At the end of the day the commissioner doesn’t ever try to help one school over the other. I did what was best for the whole.”
And now, just as the Big 12 is preparing to add TCU to its ranks, the man who oversaw the conference during times of its greatest confusion must be happy to see the intercollegiate athletic conference move forward with some sense of stability and purpose. After all, he did try to keep up with expansion trend and add to the Big 12, but his plans were derailed this summer once Oklahoma began considering a conference move.

“We formed an expansion committee during this last summer’s talks of more realignment, but we put it on hold when Oklahoma said ‘well we want to explore our options as well,’” he said. “When that happened we weren’t really going to be able to attract other institutions, because the question then became ‘well who is going to even be [in the Big 12]?”

Beebe made it clear that he has no ill-will towards the Big 12 and that he only wants to see it continue to foster better inter-conference relationships between its teams. He emphasized a clear respect for the conference and hopes that schools will put the considerations of the student-athlete first when considering conference choices.

“The [Big 12] conference is bigger than Dan Beebe. It is something that is of extreme value to this region and this part of the country and I think the best thing for this area is if the conference holds together,” he said. “I have a tremendous amount of care about the conference and its continuation and I was honored to serve. I understand that they needed another voice or whatever, and it’s sad and unfortunate for me personally, but if it is what can help hold the conference together, then that’s great.”

With the addition of TCU and the new grant-of-right deal, it seems as though the Big 12 waters have calmed for now. Nationally though, there are schools still looking to make moves in and out of conferences such as the Big East and Conference-USA. But Beebe cautions against the very tangible possibility of schools exploring realignment options.

“My whole view of the intercollegiate world is that we need to have institutions that compete based on their orientations,” he said. “Where do they get their students and where do their alumni go to work and live? When you disconnect from that, then I think you’re facing some real challenges for the future.”

Printed on October 11, 2011 as: Big 12 plot thickens with developments

Chuck Neinas | Big 12 Interim Commissioner

On September 22, 2011, Dan Beebe stepped down from his position — which he had held for four years — as Big 12 Commissioner. On Tuesday, 79-year-old Chuck Neinas, a veteran in the world of college sports, will officially assume the title as interim commissioner of the Big 12 Conference.

Neinas held a media teleconference last week during which he addressed an array of pressing questions concerning his plans to piece back together the fragmented Big 12. Once a coalition of twelve powerful collegiate programs, the conference will be down to nine schools following the official departure of Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference next year.

Despite the Aggies’ departure from the Big 12, Neinas believes that Missouri will not leave. However, if Missouri does jump ship, Neinas holds that it would still be possible for the Big 12 — which would be composed of the eight remaining schools — to reestablish its legitimacy and reclaim its reputation as a powerhouse conference.

The interim commissioner is by no means intending to take a cautious approach in his pursuit of reorganizing and reviving the Big 12.

“They’ve hired me to be a commissioner and I’ll act like one,” Neinas said at the teleconference. “If you look at my record, I’m not afraid to make decisions. They can always fire me.”

Neinas stresses that trust between Big 12 schools is one of the most critical requirements for success in his endeavor to restructure the conference. Also, he acknowledges the need to mend and refine the conference’s image. Neinas has not made any remarks regarding plans of expansion.

In his more than 50 years working in the sports arena, Neinas has held a number of notable positions including commissioner of the Big 8 and the executive director the College Football Association. In 1990, Sports Illustrated ranked Neinas the 75th most powerful person in sports, and in 2003, the magazine deemed him the 10th most powerful person in college football.

Neinas is the President of Neinas Sports Services, a consulting firm responsible for assisting the University of Texas at Austin in hiring current head football coach Mack Brown.

The Texas athletic program —along with its $300 million deal with ESPN establishing the controversial Longhorn Network—is not only being blamed for disunity in the Big 12 but also as a direct cause of the departures of Nebraska, Colorado, and most recently A&M from the conference.

Neinas believed he can calm the animosity between the conferences’ schools.

“Bringing people together is what I’m going to do,” he said.

Former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer thinks Neinas is a perfect fit for the job.

“When I heard Beebe was leaving, Neinas was the first guy I thought of. He knows every athletic director in the country... He’s the one who can rein in Texas, if it can be done. That’s what they’ve got to have.”

Neinas has made clear that he is “not a candidate in any way shape or form on a permanent basis.” However, with his reputation, Neinas could be the temporary hero that the Big 12 needs to rescue it from its current state of dissolution.

Printed on September 30, 2011 as: Interim commissioner Neinas vows to revive, organize Big 12.

Well, the Big 12 is going to stay alive, but Dan Beebe’s time as conference commissioner has come to an end.

Beebe fell on the sword for the Big 12 on Thursday, stepping down as commissioner in order to appease Oklahoma University, which said it would remain in the conference as long as there was a new commissioner in charge.

“I put all my effort into doing what was best for the Big 12,” Beebe said in a statement. “With great fondness, I wish the Big 12 Conference a long and prosperous future.”

Former Big Eight commissioner Chuck Neinas will serve as the interim commissioner.

Beebe, 54, was named commissioner in 2007. He guided the conference through last summer’s thunderstorm, holding strong despite the losses of Nebraska and Colorado. That effort got him a three-year extension to his contract, through 2015.

But he had received recent criticism for being partial to Texas, allowing the Longhorn Network to air a conference game — Kansas.

Beebe’s legacy will be a mixed one. He allowed other conferences to poach Big 12 schools — Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference, Nebraska to the Big 10, Colorado to the Pac 12. But he also kept the conference intact last summer, when it looked to be on its last breath. Beebe also was in charge when the league agreed to a $1 billion TV deal with FOX last spring.

“We sincerely thank Dan who has always demonstrated a total commitment to what is in the best interest of the Big 12 Conference,” said University of Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton, also the chairman of the conference’s board of directors.

“His energy, devotion and skill in negotiating on our behalf have been tremendous assets that have benefited our member institutions, our student athletes, our athletic programs and all our fans.”

But his final action — a selfless and brave one — should be commended. And it proves that despite everything else, Beebe cared most about keeping the conference together.

“It is satisfying to know the Big 12 Conference will survive,” Beebe said. “I congratulate the members for taking strong action to ensure a bright future as a premier intercollegiate athletics conference.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Printed on Friday, September 23, 2011 as: "Dan Beebe out as Big 12 head, future unclear for conference."

The Big 12 is nearly 18 — about as old as the freshman class that stepped on to the Forty Acres this fall. If it were an incoming college student, it seems like it would flunk out before making it to its sophomore year.

Texas A&M officially notified the Big 12 that it will explore its options pertaining to its conference affiliation Thursday. Put simply, the Aggies want out. Though their initial advances were rejected by the SEC, the Aggies are still trying to dump its toxic relationship with the Big 12 and join the country’s toughest conference. Texas A&M officials are sour about the Longhorn Network, and they believe trying to scrap with Florida, Louisiana State and the other power houses in the SEC would be in their best monetary interest.

“As I have indicated previously, we are working very deliberately to act in the best long-term interests of both Texas A&M and the state of Texas. This truly is a 100-year decision,” Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said in a release. “While we understand the desire of all parties to quickly reach a resolution, these are extremely complex issues that we are addressing methodically.”

Forget acting deliberately at this point. Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe can end this saga now and he will. Instead of letting the conference continue to crumble into rubble, Beebe’s choice is clear at this juncture — let the Aggies leave sooner rather than later and start courting new teams into the conference. Because despite it blemishes, the Big 12 is still an attractive option for up and coming football programs.

One such program whose inclusion would mutually benefit both the Big 12 and the school itself is Southern Methodist University. Based in Dallas, the Mustangs would still bring that Texas appeal the Big 12 overwhelmingly projects, and they were a part of the intense rivalries of the Southwestern Conference days. The school’s football program has continued to excel in both on-field performance and attendance. In just two years, head coach June Jones took the Mustangs to two consecutive bowl games and finished runner-up in Conference USA last year, falling to Central Florida in the title game.

Because of this, their attendance has increased 52 percent in the past five years, mostly during Jones’ tenure.

Not only is their resume appealing, they like the Big 12 ... they really, really like the Big 12.

“We feel it’s time. We’re ready,” said SMU president Steve Orsini on Thursday, after Texas A&M announced that it’s looking at other conference options. “We want the best regional conference we can get in this part of the country,” Orsini said.

“Strength is in expansion, not minimalism, like having 10 members in the Big 12, when four of the BCS conferences have 12 members. Let’s add to it.”

The Big 12 should also consider Houston to keep the in-state presence and take complete control of the Houston television market that already heavily follows the Longhorns and the rest of the Big 12 teams. TCU would be a viable option for similar reasons, as they would bring in the DFW market.

The Big 12 should also consider a wildcard option — the BYU Cougars. Though they would have to travel all they way from Utah, the Cougars are a prime candidate for the Big 12. They possess big team talent, and they marginally control the majority television viewership in Utah. Stacked against their in-state competitor, the University of Utah, the Cougars averaged one TV rating point higher. The Big 12 would increase its appeal nationally and BYU would finally get to settle the evergreen debate as to whether or not they belong in an automatic qualifier conference.

By bringing one of these teams in, Beebe could satisfy their current teams and keep breadwinners Texas and Oklahoma in the conference, which is his most important job. Whatever Beebe chooses to do in terms of re-expansion, he needs to start by cutting his conference’s toxic relationships immediately, before this situation unnecessarily drags on.  

Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe will, yet again, have a lot of explaining to do.

With Texas A&M and Oklahoma threatening to leave the Big 12 for the SEC because of potential recruiting conflicts that may arise with the launch of the Longhorn Network, Beebe will have to answer these colleges’ concerns or possibly watch his conference disintegrate for good.

The heads of both Texas A&M and Oklahoma have expressed concerns that Longhorn Network programming, namely the airing of high school football games, affords the Longhorns an unfair recruiting advantage. Dave Brown, vice president of programming at ESPN, said in a recent Austin radio interview that programmers would target contests — including one in Scottsdale, Ariz. — in which Texas recruits and commits were playing.

“High school games are very problematic,” said Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin after a meeting with the Aggie regents Thursday. “NCAA rules are extremely directed at recruiting functions. ... If we have an unequal playing field for various schools, that we think is a problem. That creates uncertainty.”

Since the flags were raised, Beebe announced the high school programming will be temporarily disallowed until the NCAA can clarify the legality of airing those games.

“I think there is [concern] from my colleagues in other leagues,” Beebe said. “We would have concern if conference networks were doing that maybe in an effort to win favor with certain high schools.”

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds has been compliant with the initial ban and is trying to work with ESPN and the NCAA to make sure the Longhorn Network stays as intact as originally proposed.

“[ESPN is] trying to sell subscribers,” Dodds said. “And [Texas is] trying to follow NCAA rules.”

He believes the network will launch as planned and eventually open the doors for other schools to follow suit.

“In the long haul, us being able to do this gives the ability to A&M to be able to do this, Oklahoma to be able to do this,” Dodds told Sports Illustrated last week. “We’re building a new world. We’re living in a new world, and we all need to learn to live in it in a different way.”

Though all parties come across as cordial, the problem is much less friendly than their comments suggest. Analysts say Texas stands to lose many subscribers if high school programming is banned, which would mean less revenue. If the NCAA rules in favor of the network, the conference could see the Aggies’ and Sooners’ talks with other conferences heat up, thus threatening to break up any semblance of a traditional Big 12 conference.

Printed on 7/25/2011 as: Longhorn Network seen as unfair advantage by rivals