By Steve Olafson
NORMAN, Oklahoma (Reuters) - Big 12 Conference Commissioner Dan Beebe resigned on Thursday as the struggling conference pledged to stick together despite losing three members the past two years.
"We sincerely thank Dan who has always demonstrated a total commitment to what is in the best interest of the Big 12 Conference," University of Missouri chancellor and chair of the Big 12 board of directors Brady Deaton said in a statement announcing Beebe had resigned, effective immediately.
Deaton said the conference hired Chuck Neinas to serve as interim commissioner, starting next week. Beebe, named commissioner in 2007, had joined the conference in 2003.
The Big 12 lost Nebraska and Colorado last year and will lose Texas A&M next summer, with speculation in recent weeks widespread that four more of its schools would bolt.
But the nine remaining members of the Big 12 agreed on Thursday to rebuild and make reforms in an hour-long conference call on Thursday, said David Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma.
Beebe had been under fire over the defections from the conference and was under increasing criticism as Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech entertained the notion of joining the Pac 12 Conference, which ultimately decided not to expand further.
In voting to keep the Big 12 intact, Boren said university leaders agreed to a 6-year grant of television rights that will prevent any school from taking its television revenue to a different conference if it decides to leave.
The television agreement will bind the nine schools with "very strong handcuffs," Boren said, which he said will help bring stability back to the conference.
"It's an affirmation that we all agree to stay together," Boren said.
The university leaders also discussed changing the way TV revenue is divided among conference members, though nothing has been decided, Boren said.
Most college athletic conferences divide television money equally among its members. But the Big 12 gives more money to Texas and Oklahoma, its two powerhouse schools, because they appear more frequently on nationally broadcast games.
Oklahoma "has no desire to dominate the Big 12 Conference" and is willing to give some of the TV money it now receives to the smaller schools, Boren said.
The details will be discussed by a working group put together by Deaton, Boren said. The group also will examine adding three schools to the conference to replace Nebraska, Colorado and Texas A&M, he said.
Boren said he doubts Texas A&M will reverse its decision to leave the conference.
(Editing by Peter Bohan)