Beebe's task: Fend off Big 12 raiders
BY DAVE SITTLER World Sports Coumnist
Sunday, May 02, 2010
5/02/10 at 8:35 AM
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BIG 12 Conference commissioner Dan Beebe is the second coming of either Nero or Teddy Roosevelt.
Some believe Beebe is fiddling while the Big 12 gets burned by conference raiders who could steal as many as seven league teams.
Others contend Beebe, like Roosevelt, is quietly wielding a big club behind the scenes as speculation over conference expansion rages.
In the past few days, we've seen the Big East hire former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to look out for its interests, SEC commissioner Mike Slive taunt the Big Ten and commissioner Larry Scott confirm the Pac-10's expansion plans remain on schedule.
Expansion hysteria has reached the point where a college football coach called out almighty Notre Dame.
Beebe, meanwhile, has made a few flippant remarks on the subject or spoke softly and succinctly about it.
The person responsible for this panic is Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. It's Delany's world right now and we're all living and waiting in it.
Delany rocked several conferences last December when he confirmed the Big Ten was exploring expansion.
The Big Ten has released little information about its plan, other than the process could take anywhere from 12 to 18 months.
That hasn't stopped widespread rumors. They range from the Big Ten adding one team or becoming the first super conference with 16 schools.
"I tried to put (Delany) in a headlock," joked Beebe when commissioners gathered last month in Scottsdale, Ariz. "But he's a tough guy."
Tagliabue doesn't find anything funny about Delany playing kingmaker.
Labeling Delany's expansion study as "very disruptive," Tagliabue told the New York Times that "everything outside the Big Ten is held in artificial suspension.
"The Big Ten looks at a bunch of choices and everyone else has to deal with the depreciating value and a ton of negativity. I hope there's a better way. Otherwise it's going to have a terrible negative effect on everyone other than the schools in the Big Ten."
Speaking to a gathering of Associated Press sports administrators last week, Slive made it clear that the Big Ten isn't about to steamroll the SEC.
"If there is going to be a significant shift in the conference paradigm," said Slive, "the SEC will be strategic and thoughtful to make sure it maintains its position as one of the nation's pre-eminent conferences."
The conference landscape would experience a monumental shift if the Big Ten adds five teams. Most projections in that scenario have three from the Big East and two from the Big 12 enabling the Big Ten to become the first 16-team league.
If that unfolds, some insiders believe the SEC will counter by adding Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas A&M from the Big 12.
There's also reports that Colorado and the Pac-10 continue to flirt with each other.
Notre Dame could calm the fears of many schools if it would finally accept the Big Ten's invitation. Despite its name, the conference that currently has 11 schools would then have the 12 teams needed to stage a football championship game.
Several Big East coaches have reached the point of anger after hearing predictions their league would fold if three schools join the Big Ten.
Speaking at a Chamber of Commerce function last week, Connecticut coach Randy Edsall confirmed the anxiety throughout the Big East, which counts Notre Dame as member in every sport but football.
Edsall revealed that every Big East football coach has "asked the conference to deliver an ultimatum to Notre Dame to come into the (Big East) for football or get out entirely."
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who finished runner-up when the Big 12 named Beebe commissioner, has said the Irish remain determined to be a football independent.
If the Big East or Big Ten can't call Swarbrick's bluff and force the Irish to join one of the conferences as a full member, then Missouri and Nebraska could reportedly receive Big Ten invitations.
"I would be negligent not to be concerned," Beebe acknowledged at the commissioners meetings. "I expect that (Delany), who I have known for many, many years and trust implicitly, that he'll do what he said he's going to do.
"If and when the time comes that they're going to do anything — and if that includes any of the institutions in the Big 12 — he'll let me know first."
Perhaps Delany will keep his word. But Beebe would be wise to remember how eight members of the Western Athletic Conference stunned commissioner Karl Benson and the rest of the league by secretly meeting at the Denver airport in 1998 and voting to abandon the WAC to form the Mountain West Conference.
Beebe also believes Delany's contention that the Big Ten's expansion timetable hasn't changed. But others don't buy it, including MWC commissioner Craig Thompson.
"I think the timetable has to be a little quicker than that," said Thompson, noting the rules a school must follow to leave a conference.
Mike Holder and Joe Castiglione, the respective athletic directors at OSU and OU, are confident Beebe is quietly being proactive to ensure the Big 12 survives.
In a February interview on Big12sports.com, Beebe expressed confidence about the conference's future.
"I'm pretty comfortable that we're going to have the institutions that we have right now as we go forward," Beebe said. "I think at the end of the day that we're going to be in pretty good shape when all of this settles down."
If Beebe doesn't settle things down, he could soon be watching his conference burn down.
Dan Beebe: Big 12 commissioner believes his league won't lose any member schools to other conferences.
MAN OF CHANGE?
Jim Delany: Big Ten commissioner's expansion plans could impact many.