AUSTIN - Staring at extinction, the Big 12 is once again in play.
The beleaguered conference made a rousing comeback Monday, when Texas declined an invitation to join the Pac-10 and decided to stay in the Big 12.
Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M quickly followed the Longhorns by recommitting to the conference after commissioner Dan Beebe convinced his members they would make more money in television and media deals in a 10-team Big 12 than in a 16-team Pac-10.
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.
"Everybody is feeling much more confident the Big 12 is going to survive," the person said. "Everybody's going to be making more money."
All that talk about the Pac-16, the first super conference that would span from Seattle to the Lone Star state? Done.
"University of Texas president Bill Powers has informed us that the 10 remaining schools in the Big 12 Conference intend to stay together," Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. "We are excited about the future of the Pac-10 Conference and we will continue to evaluate future expansion opportunities under the guidelines previously set forth by our presidents and chancellors."
The conference, born in 1996 when the Big 8 merged with members of the Southwestern Conference, seemed to be falling apart last week when Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-10) decided to leave over the next two years. Now the Big 12 is back, though there are still questions about how it will conduct its business.
Among those that still need to be answered by Beebe is how and why the Big 12 will be more lucrative now, especially when it cannot hold a conference title game with only 10 members.
Beebe did not return phone messages yesterday, but plans to hold a conference call with reporters today.
The news about the Longhorns, Sooners, and the rest of the Big 12 South powers staying put was especially good for Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State, and Missouri - the five schools in danger of being left homeless if the conference dissolved.
Baylor football coach Art Briles, a Texas native who has spent his entire career in the Lone Star state, put it this way: "I got resuscitated. You can take your hands off my chest. ... I'm extremely excited, it's like being given new life."
As for the Pac-10 and Scott, who was trying pull off a bold move that would have dramatically changed college sports, they are left looking for at least one more member to get to 12 by 2012 when Colorado is set to join.
Scott's plan was to add Texas along with its main Big 12 South rivals - Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech.
Because Texas is the richest and most powerful of the Big 12 schools, the Longhorns were seen as the lynchpin to the deal. Wherever Texas decided to place its cash cow football program, the rest of the schools would seemingly fall in line.
But Texas A&M had represented a wild card, with school officials meeting with Pac-10 and SEC officials in recent days. If the Aggies were serious about leaving for the Southeastern Conference, no matter what Texas did, it was unclear whether that would have prompted the Longhorns, Sooners, and the rest to decide the Big 12 was not worth saving with only nine members.
But that SEC flirtation turned out to be nothing more.
"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.