AUSTIN, Texas - The Big 12 is alive and kicking.
The University of Texas yesterday said it was staying in the Big 12, followed moments later by pledges from Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M to remain in a league that had seemed to be falling apart last week when Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-10) decided to leave over the next 2 years.
The Texas announcement came shortly after Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott confirmed to the Associated Press in an e-mail that Texas had declined an invitation to become the 12th member of his conference. Scott said Texas president William Powers Jr. told him "the 10 remaining schools in the Big 12 Conference intend to stay together."
Powers wouldn't give any details about why the school decided to stay put when asked by the AP. The school has scheduled a news conference for today.
A person with direct knowledge of discussions among the Big 12's remaining members said Texas is clear to set up its own TV network and keep all proceeds in exchange for remaining in the Big 12. The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because nothing has been finalized, said details were still being worked out.
The fate of the conference born in 1996 when the Big 8 merged with four members of the Southwest Conference has been at risk for days, and Texas emerged as the key to the Big 12's survival. The Pac-10 courted Texas and other Big 12 South Division schools, while Texas A&M reportedly expressed interest in going to the Southeastern Conference barring a better offer.
"Texas A&M is a proud member of the Big 12 Conference and will continue to be affiliated with the conference in the future," school president R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement.
Officials at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma issued similar statements, with OSU president Burns Hargis singling out Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe for his "bold moves and intense efforts."
Beebe did not return messages seeking comment.
The news that the Big 12 survived spread quickly.
"That's great news," said Scott Drew, whose Baylor men's basketball team advanced to the South Regional final in the NCAA Tournament a few months ago. "Obviously, we're very excited and pleased about the 10 schools staying together. It will be great to continue the rivalries and traditions."
Texas A&M had represented another wild card, with school officials meeting with Pac-10 and SEC officials in recent days. If the Aggies are serious about leaving for the SEC, no matter what Texas and the others decide, would that prompt the Longhorns, Sooners and the rest to decide the Big 12 is not worth saving with only nine members?
Texas A&M regent Gene Stallings said he wants the Big 12 to survive and would vote to keep the Aggies in the league if they don't get a much better offer. Stallings told the Associated Press that keeping the Big 12 together "would tickle me to death."
Stallings coached Alabama to a football national championship in 1992. He has said that if Texas A&M does move, he'd rather see the Aggies go to the SEC than the Pac-10, but his comments suggested that would be a last resort.
"I know how hard all the Big 12 coaches have worked to make our conference the No. 1 conference in the country," Baylor's Drew said. "When you achieve that status, you obviously don't want to see it disappear. The rivalries and traditions and fans support are what help make the Big 12 the best conference in the country."