Shoot, they didn't even know whether the league would change its name or not.
"Someone talked about the conference formerly known as the Big 12," quipped Texas president William Powers Jr.
"We're looking for leadership from the Big 10 on that," joked DeLoss Dodds, Texas men's athletics director, about the conference, which has more members (11) than its name suggests.
But there were enough positive signs for Texas to declare its "long term and unequivocal commitment" to a 10-team Big 12 at a press conference on Tuesday. In a decision that Powers said focused on everything from student athlete well-being to economics and preserving traditional rivals, Texas elected to stiff arm the Pac-10 to remain with the Big 12, minus Colorado and Nebraska.
"The words of guarantee weren't necessarily applicable from the outset," said Chris Plonsky, Texas women's athletics director. "It was a discussion upon alignment, construction and what that possible value could be."
"There was no single issue that was a tipping point," Powers added.
The television contract
But one of the major issues was getting the conference more bang for its television buck.
According to Powers and Dodds, the exact numbers of the Big 12's television contract have yet to be determined. But Dodds said schools would receive more money from the ABC/ESPN deal, which ends in 2016, because that contract money will now be split 10 ways, rather than 12 ways.
The FOX contract is up for renegotiation in 2012, and Dodds said the conference was hoping to make a deal to run from 2012 to 2016, so that both television deals would end at the same time.
But the important piece was that Texas would be able to pursue a Longhorn network, one that Powers said could include both sports and campus programming. Dodds said that Texas had worked on the package for two years, and only set it aside while conference negotiations were ongoing. Now, he said Texas was "in a position to continue to look at that and move forward."
The Longhorn network is something that was repeatedly cited as a reason for tension between Texas and Nebraska, though Powers said that storyline was overblown. When Texas first broached the network in 2007, Powers said multiple Big 12 schools raised issues with the potential network.
"Nebraska was not one of those schools," Powers said.
Early estimates have put Texas's potential take, including the Longhorn network, at around $25 million per year, though Dodds said any estimates there were somewhat premature.
"Bottom line, the Big 12's TV packages are going to be every bit as good as any other package in any other conference in the nation," Dodds said.
The competitive aspect
Finding a "true champion."
The phrase was used multiple times on Tuesday by both Texas football coach Mack Brown and Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes. For Brown, it meant that A) every team would play every other team in a round robin format and B) the lack of a Big 12 championship game would stop the Big 12's top teams from getting snipped out of the national title game.
Brown said that a conference championship game helped Florida win a title a few years back, but for the Big 12, the game has represented a chance for the underdog to spoil national championship hopes. Ten times in the Big 12's 14-year history, a team has entered the conference championship game in a situation where the favorite had a chance to play for a national title. Five of those 10 times, the favorite has lost the Big 12 title game, with only Oklahoma in 2003 still holding on to its title shot.
Instead, the Big 12 will determine its football champion via a nine-game round robin schedule with everybody playing everybody. Though he didn't mention names, Brown said the current format allowed some schools (Iowa State and Kansas come to mind with their South rotational schedule) to win their division without having to play two of the conference's top schools. Now, each team will play everyone else.
As for the Big 12 hurting itself in the polls or in bowl season by sitting out an extra week, Brown pointed at the Big 10 and the Pac-10. The Big 10 has put teams in the national title game despite often sitting out the last few weeks of the season, while the Pac-10 has scheduled games like USC-UCLA to be played on championship game weekend. Brown said that television would likely want the Big 12 to have a presence in late November, early December and would probably consider playing a game that late.
Brown was asked about moving the Oklahoma game to that weekend, and laughed it off, responding: "That's way too big for me." In general, Brown said he tried to stay away from the conference alignment process, stating that it was bigger than just football.
And Barnes said the basketball changes, which would include an 18-game double round robin format would also facilitate a "true champion." He cited the Longhorns' basketball rivalry with Kansas, and said that a home-and-home could help take that rivalry to another level.
While complimenting the jobs done by Doc Sadler of Nebraska and Jeff Bzdelik of Colorado, Barnes said that the 10-team Big 12 would likely be one of the most competitive basketball leagues in the country.
At the same time, he said the alignment topic never really came up on the recruiting trail.
"Honestly, with us being the University of Texas, we knew that we were going to be OK," Barnes said.
Rather than having all of the remaining members ink their intent to stay in the league, Powers said the league simply asked for "public, unequivocal statements of long-term commitment to the Big 12." He said that he trusted the other universities to hold true to their word, and as long as the Big 12 becomes what he called a "very viable and strong economic conference," he might be right.
Powers declined to comment on the Pac-10's offer, citing confidentiality concerns, and said that he was looking forward to the future. Dodds said he didn't believe there would be any ill will harbored by other members of the Big 12.
"We live in athletics," Dodds said. "We beat each other up on Saturdays and then we hug each other on Sundays."
Brown commended Dodds and Powers for the work they did in keeping the league together.
"It's always been a top priority to keep the conference together," Powers said. "We were committed to the Big 12 in 2007. We've been committed to the Big 12 throughout."