TALK OF CONFERENCE MERGER PREMATURE, BIG EIGHT SAYS

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 16 1994 12:00 a.m. MST

After meeting for almost two hours Tuesday, Big Eight officials planned to meet again today to discuss a new football television agreement and possible expansion into the Southwest Conference.

However, one conference official who requested anonymity said recent speculation that the Big Eight would take in at least two and maybe four SWC teams "could be premature."The Big Eight and SWC have reportedly been offered a $60 million television deal by ABC Sports that could jump to $70 million if the leagues merge. The package could be worth as much as $80 million if a deal is worked out with ESPN.

But Big Eight sources said those figures had not been mentioned to them, and SWC commissioner Steve Hatchell agreed in an interview in his office in Dallas that a merger may not occur.

"Just because we're working on television together, people assume there's something more, and that's just not the case," Hatchell said.

In the meanwhile, other conferences around the country are announcing their own football television agreements daily, putting greater pressure on the Big Eight.

Until the Big East Conference announced on Tuesday that it was signing a separate football deal with CBS, the Big Eight had hoped to remain part of a scaled-down TV package of other members of the College Football Association.

On Tuesday, the Big Eight's last chance for remaining a part of the CFA package faded when the Big East said it had reached agreement with CBS. The entire process was set in motion last week when the Southeastern Conference said it was pulling its marquee programs out of the CFA deal to go with CBS.

The latest developments leave the Big Eight, the SWC, the Western Athletic Conference and the southern independents such as Tulane, Cincinnati and Louisville out in the cold when the CFA's current contracts expire in two more seasons.

"All hope for a mini-CFA arrangement vanished today," said Big Eight commissioner Carl C. James on Tuesday. "In 24 hours, we've seen 17 CFA members leave. Now we're evaluating where we stand. This gives us a better and clearer focus on what's available and who we're talking with."

Big Eight officials seem to hold out little possibility of a full-fledged merger with the SWC. Texas, Texas A&M and possibly Baylor and Texas Tech are the ones they're most interested in.

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