AUSTIN, Texas — Looking for the savior of the Big 12? Follow the money.
Assurances that big television money will soon be coming to a leaner Big 12 pulled the league back from the dead, officials with schools and the conference said Tuesday.
With Colorado (Pac-10) and Nebraska (Big Ten) leaving in the next two years and the Pac-10 making a hard sell to Texas and four other schools to join it, the promises — not guarantees — of bigger checks in the future finally persuaded the Longhorns and the others to stay put.
"This is a long-term and unequivocal commitment," Texas president William Powers Jr. said Tuesday. "We've decided the Big 12 provides the best long-term opportunity for our university."
According IRS tax records, the Big 12 paid each school from $8.7 million to $15.4 million in 2008-09, with Kansas State getting the smallest payout and Oklahoma the biggest. The Big 12's TV deal with Fox expires in 2012, and a more lucrative contract with ESPN runs through the 2015-2016 academic year.
Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said no new deals have been struck but he has "extremely strong verification, based on our analysis with our consultants and others, and media companies themselves, that we are in a tremendous position to execute future agreements that will put our member institutions on par with any in the country."
Beebe did not provide financial numbers for possible deals.
"The Big 12 approached us asking if we would maintain our current agreement through its term of 2015-16, and we agreed," said Josh Krulewitz, ESPN's vice president for communications.
A Fox Sports Net spokesman said no new deal had been reached but discussions would be ongoing.
The Big 12 has increased the financial reward for each member since it began play in 1996. It distributed $139 million to its members this past fiscal year, more than ever.
Texas, the richest and most powerful conference school, is convinced it can make even more money in a 10-team league. "The Big 12 (TV) package is going to be every bit as good as any other conference," athletic director DeLoss Dodds said. "We are in good shape on the television side."
And by staying in the Big 12, Texas can explore whether it should start a Longhorns TV network. If it had moved to the Pac-10, Texas would have had to surrender its media rights. Women's athletic director Chris Plonsky said a university-owned network, which would broadcast sports and other school events, should bring in millions of dollars.
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said the Sooners also are also interested in starting a TV network. He said the school has invested $3 million in a high-definition video facility on campus. The school doesn't have a time frame for the project or other details ironed out, such as how the network would be made available to customers, he said.
Some of the league's smaller schools are giving up cash for the promise of keeping the league together and getting more money later.
Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State and Missouri — in danger of being left homeless if the conference dissolved — agreed to give up their share in buyout penalties Nebraska and Colorado will pay for leaving, Beebe said. The idea is to have that money go to Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma to make up for the difference in revenue those three might have made going elsewhere.
However, Missouri officials said they had not agreed to give up their share of the buyout penalties.
The amount of the penalties has not been disclosed. Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn said his school's could be around $9 million.
More conference wrangling: Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said Utah's athletic director told him Monday that the Pac-10 had not contacted the school. Utah has been speculated as being the Pac-10's next target. … WAC commissioner Karl Benson, who lost Boise State to the Mountain West, said he expects to invite one or two schools to join before the summer is out.
Basketball: Georgia Tech hired former USF head men's coach Robert McCullum as an assistant to men's coach Paul Hewitt. … Tom Stith, a prolific scoring small forward who led St. Bonaventure to its first NCAA Tournament in 1961, died of cancer and kidney problems Sunday on New York's Long Island. He was 71. A two-time All-American, he is fourth on the school's scoring list and is one of two players to reach 2,000 points in three seasons. The Knicks took him second overall in the 1961 draft. He played two seasons before tuberculosis ended his career.