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Archive for Monday, March 27, 1995

GRID BUCKS HAD TO BE KEY FACTOR

March 27, 1995

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Money talks and basketball walks. At least compared to football, it does.

Thus Southwest Conference commissioner Steve Hatchell, a football guy, was chosen over Kansas athletic director Bob Frederick, a basketball man, to lead the Big 12 Conference into the promised land.

At least that's the spin I put on the decision by the dozen CEOs to select Hatchell over Frederick. They know football is the golden goose of intercollegiate athletics and that basketball is, relatively speaking, a mere silver duck.

The Big Eight didn't court Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech because it wanted to conduct its track and field championships in Lubbock. Expansion meant money. TV money. Bowl money. Big money.

When it came time to pick a commissioner, the CEOs clearly opted for the man they knew had the contacts and the wherewithal to deliver the dollars.

Perhaps we should have known all along Frederick wasn't the frontrunner when Hatchell represented the Big 12 during negotiations for that five-year football television contract worth more than $100 million and pacts that guarantee the new league berths in five Tier II bowls.

Make no mistake about this: The Big 12 will be a football-oriented league. Of the 12 schools in the conference, only one -- Kansas -- is known as a basketball school. Oklahoma State, Missouri and perhaps Texas enjoy solid basketball reputations, but football will be king, pure and simple.

Five schools, because of their football reputations, are the bedrock of the Big 12. The people with the money -- the networks, the bowls -- will always covet Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M, Texas and Oklahoma.

If, as reported, Hatchell had seven votes on the first ballot, then I'd guess those five plus Baylor and Texas Tech were initially in his corner.

I'm sure Kansas folks are disappointed Frederick wasn't tapped for the Big 12's top job. Perhaps, though, it's a testimony to Frederick that he went as far as he did in the process with such a thin football portfolio and with no experience in a conference office.

Then again, maybe I'm rationalizing. Maybe the CEOs just liked Hatchell better. Naw, I don't believe that. The CEOs had a tough call and they made the pragmatic choice. They didn't become executives earning six-figure salaries by making a crucial decision based personality.

Now that the die has been cast for Hatchell, the Big 12 bosses need to address what I see as potential animosity through geography.

Dividing the league along north-south lines is a mistake because it gives the conference too much of a Big Eight v. Southwest Conference mentality. Spell that: Us against them. Four-two splits would be better, that is to say four Big Eight and two ex-SWC schools in each division, if indeed divisions are the answer.

Some people are worried the selection of Hatchell means Dallas will become Big 12 Conference headquarters. If so, so what? What difference does it make where the league office is located?

Still, the league needs to maintain a presence in Kansas City and it's likely the conference basketball tournament will fill that role.

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