Make no mistake, the Big 12 commissioner knows the threat of losing members like Missouri, Nebraska or even Texas is real after the Big Ten announced earlier this spring it would explore expanding from 11 teams to perhaps as many as 16 teams. Plus, Colorado could be interested in bolting to the Pac-10 for geographic reasons. So the Big 12 could be a conference that looks very different, or perhaps may not exist at all, should two or three of its members opt for a much more lucrative payout from the Big Ten and its network.
The future of the Big 12 and its current membership is a major discussion this week as the 15-year-old league holds its annual spring meetings here in Kansas City.
"I don't think it's that realistic," Beebe said Wednesday when asked by FanHouse how real is the threat that some members could leave the conference. "I think it's going to be intact and I think we are going to move forward and I think it's going to be the 12 institutions we have. But at the same time, I'd be foolish if I relied only on that feeling and that base of information. So I am planning on any possible contingencies that might come into play."
The reality is no one really knows what the future holds. Partly, that's because the Big Ten hasn't said exactly what it will do in terms of expansion. The league that right now is comprised of Midwest schools could expand by as few as one or as many as five.
But the Big 12, like the ACC, SEC and Big East, is trying to do what it can to keep its members on board. The Big 12 athletic directors and presidents are slated to meet here Thursday to discuss how the league should proceed. The presidents, who actually have the right to vote on membership, will meet behind closed doors Friday before adjourning.
The resounding message Wednesday, however, was "let's stay together."
"I think our league is structured well enough and has been strong enough to withstand a lot of the conjecture and speculation that's out there," said Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, who was the AD at Missouri when the Big 12 was formed. "It doesn't mean we're overlooking it. But we're thinking more about what we have and what we can do in the future than what we don't have."
"I really like the Big 12," said Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne, who was the AD at Nebraska when the Big 12 was formed. "We are part of the original group that put it together and from A&M's perspective we want it to stay together."
But not all institutions seem to share that sentiment. Missouri and Nebraska are both believed to be unhappy with the Big 12 for different reasons. Missouri isn't pleased with the uneven television revenue deal that has always been in place in which schools like Texas and Oklahoma get a bigger share because they make more television appearances.
Nebraska has seemingly grown weary of the center of gravity shifting more decidedly to the South where Texas and Oklahoma are. The biggest point of contention for the Cornhuskers has been a move to make the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex. the permanent home for the Big 12 Championship rather than rotate the game between North and South venues. The Big 12 title game was in Jerry Jones' new stadium last year, it will be there again in December and it's likely the board of directors will vote this week to play it there which will bolster the chances of Cowboys Stadium being the permanent site.
Nebraska athletic director and the Cornhuskers legendary coach Tom Osborne has in the past voiced concern about such a move but Wednesday backed off in support of league solidarity.
"We like the Big 12," Osborne said as he answered questions about the future of the conference. "Those things will be decided hopefully tomorrow, if not tomorrow then not before too long."
Most believe Nebraska and Missouri will listen to the Big Ten and will bolt because of the chance to double their athletic department revenue. The Big 12 distributes between $7 and $12 million to its members, while the Big Ten and revenue from its own Big Ten Network pays members between $20 and $22 million in a conference that distributes television money evenly.
But Osborne said several times Wednesday that all the speculation of who may leave is premature.
"First of all, it's important to understand I don't think the Big Ten knows what it's going to do," he said. "They may add one, they may add three, they may add five. So we have no indication right now of what's going to happen."
But the Big 12 is trying to prepare itself for whatever might happen. The league is now locked into what is a below market value television deal with ABC/ESPN through 2015-16, but an additional deal with Fox Sports Net expires following the 2011-12 season and negotiations for a new contract will get under way next April.
The ACC recently inked a 12-year deal with ESPN for $1.86 billion. Beebe is hoping the Big 12 will be able to increase revenue dramatically with a new contract from Fox or perhaps another network to televise football games.
Beebe has also rolled out the possibility of partnering with the Pac-10 on a television deal, though that seems far down the line at this point.
"The television package is one that we are working on now and I think it's going to get greatly enhanced," Beebe said. "We have that staggered situation, so we will have that big jump next April that will get us to a better level. All projections that we see will be just as well compensated as just about any conference out there. The only thing is the patience needed for that."
And that, right now, seems to be the burning issue -- especially with schools like Missouri being clearly unhappy with the revenue distribution. Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said Wednesday that his school is happy in the Big 12, but his schools' complaints about the revenue sharing have been heard.
That doesn't mean it's going to change.
"Revenue distribution has been very well vetted in the conference," Beebe said. "The (board of directors) has determined our method of distribution -- which was appropriate when the conference was formed, based upon what was needed to form the conference -- is one that will continue.
"One athletic director, who has been on the side of wanting more equal distribution said, `It's not necessarily discriminatory, I've come around to a different view. If my program is elevated as it has been recently, I get more appearances and I get more money.' It's just a different way of doing it."
"There is not a conference out there that distributes all the money generated from its conference's athletic programs equally."
So what will it take for every school in the Big 12 to be happy?
Beebe's mission this week seems to be to find who is on board and who may be wavering as he prepares to make his case next April to Fox Sports Net. But that definitive answer likely will not come until the Big Ten makes its expansion official -- perhaps as soon as the end of the summer or maybe as far off as next spring.
Either way, the Big 12 is in a holding pattern.
"I think each individual institution is going to have to reach the conclusion that the case I have been advocating for the Big 12 is the most compelling case for their institution," Beebe said. "I would like for that to be a on a very tight time frame. I may be told that's not possible at some places, but that's what has to happen.
"It's like any other relationship, whether it's marriage or something else, you are going to reach the conclusion of, 'This is where my future lies.' I may not like every part of it, but I wouldn't like every part of it somewhere else.'"