Analysis: Stability of new Big 12 remains in doubt

MU’s commitment to the conference is sealed with a handshake, not a contract.
Missouri senior Bree Thornton and Nebraska senior midfielder Anna White clash in midair after heading the ball during the Big 12 Regular Season Championship game October 25th at Walton Stadium. Nebraska left Big 12 in favor of the Big Ten Conference in June.

Once at the center of the Big Ten expansion speculation, MU ultimately found itself on the outside looking in. Because MU was perceived to be inserting itself into the Big Ten discussion, the University of Nebraska — Lincoln blamed MU for causing the trouble for the Big 12.

"Nebraska did not start this discussion," Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Pearlman said during a UNL Board of Regents meeting June 11. "Early on, after the Big Ten announced that it intended to consider expansion, we saw reports that officials of Missouri had made clear that they would want to go to the Big Ten, including statements by their governor, I believe by members of their Board of Curators and by their chancellor, at least comments that were clearly not in support of the Big 12."

Chancellor Brady Deaton said he does not understand Nebraska's accusations and contends that MU was not the only school exploring its options.

"I don't fully understand that comment and don't think it's an accurate comment at all," Deaton said. "I think that was only because of the original speculation that included Missouri in the speculation about the Big Ten. Some schools, who had their own plans, may have looked at that as justification for what they were doing."

Despite the harsh comments from his conference's newest member, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany refused to blame anyone and suggested a smaller Big 12 has potential to succeed.

"I think you can have a conference with 10 members," Delany said. "You can have a conference with 11 members. I don't buy that any one institution is responsible for anything of that dimension. I know it's a good storyline and it's a good narrative, but there are a lot of other ways to describe what's happening (in the Big 12)."

Deaton echoed Delany's comments and said he is optimistic about the new Big 12.

"I feel very excited about it, actually," Deaton said. "(The new setup) makes it a more collegiate feeling, and I think that we're going to be able to work well together."

Not everyone shares Deaton's optimism, though. Not much was done to ease the unhappiness of schools such as MU, who voiced displeasure with how the conference was run, leading experts and some officials within the Big 12 to question the conference's stability.

"I just don't think this conference will last long because there's just too much disparity between all the teams here," Texas Tech football coach Tommy Tuberville said. "You've got some teams that get a little bit more money. And when that happens, you're going to have teams looking for better avenues to leave and reasons to leave. And so we have a 10-team league now, but I just don't know how long that's going to last, to be honest with you."

Tuberville's doubts are not unfounded. Although all 10 teams get more money with fewer teams, the disparity in profits between Texas and the rest of the conference increases substantially due to the unequal revenue system. Under the new conference setup, the University of Texas is projected to earn as much as $25 million. Add in the possibility of Texas creating its own television network, and UT could be drawing $30 million in total revenue.

Another important component of the new Big 12 is that none of the 10 schools are contractually obligated to stay with the Big 12. All 10 recommitments, including MU's, were sealed with a handshake, not a signed document. Although Deaton has said Missouri is "totally committed and devoted to making the new Big 12 a major success, there are no documents preventing Missouri from leaving if an offer should come.

"There's still some definite instability (in the 'new' Big 12)," ESPN staff writer David Ubben said. "I have my doubts about if the Big Ten comes and wants Missouri, that Missouri wouldn't just leave."

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