Archive for Sunday, May 3, 1998

DO YOU THINK THAT 10 YEARS FROM NOW THE BIG 12 CONFERENCE AS WE KNOW IT WILL EXIST?

May 3, 1998

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History seems to favor continued existence of what some acidly refer to as the Big Eight and the Four We Hate. That barb results from the unearned influence which many northerners feel the four Texas schools have exerted since 1996. Whatever the reasons, Big 12 operations under controversial commissioner Steve Hatchell have not produced any love feast. No quick turnaround seems in sight unless the Hatchell successor is a miracle worker.

But area schools are traditionally slow to give up on league allegiances and the new conference just might blossom. All sorts of enmities have been resolved in the past. Yet that was in slower, saner, less commercialized times. Today we have too damned much information and too little wisdom to assimilate and deploy it productively.

Kansas was in the Missouri Valley Conference which existed from 1908 to 1928. Then came the Big Six from 1929 to 1947. Colorado joined KU, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Nebraska in 1948 to create the Big Seven. Oklahoma State's admission gave us a Big Eight from 1959 to 1996.

Television influence, money concerns and countless other factors have changed old-line loyalties. Kansas athletics director Bob Frederick was a commissioner finalist with Hatchell and the latter prevailed. Freddie's name crops up fast when a new boss is mentioned. Considering the problems he would inherit, Bob, 58, might be better off running the table at KU to retirement. If Frederick believes he can be a major healer and organizer, the Big 12 job is made for him. Unless he adores migraine headaches, Lawrence is a better deal.

Frederick turned down the Michigan and North Carolina athletic directorships. He'd have had to handle the Steve Fisher basketball coaching mess at Ann Arbor; he would have been involved with the Dean Smith-Bill Guthridge changeover and the Mack Brown football defection at North Carolina. Staying here was a good choice. Maybe that's how he and his family will look at the Big 12 job.

If Freddie should go, how would the status of football coach Terry Allen and basketball chief Roy Williams be affected? There's great rapport now. Would that change to KU's disadvantage?

Suppose Colorado responds favorably to courtship by the Pac 10. Suppose ultra-rich schools like Texas and Texas A & M get tired of slumming and go for bigger stakes -- even though their programs are a far cry from gangbusters at present. How long will it take Texas Tech to rectify its disgusting range of violations and scandals? Can a private school such as Baylor match up to its growing challenges? Consider the money problems all the ``northern'' schools have to deal with.

Down the line, might we see a league hubbed by Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Missouri,Oklahoma State and perhaps Baylor or Texas Tech while Texas, A & M, Oklahoma, Nebraska and such are plying their trade elsewhere in faster company? Is faltering Oklahoma still big league?

There's been an uneasiness about the new Big 12 ever since its headquarters shifted to Dallas and talk emerged about playing musical chairs with the annual basketball tournament. The recent flap over the communication problems of Steve Hatchell haven't brightened the future.

Like the free-agency element in modern sports, pro and college, with kids leaving early for the pros, league alignments seem to shift regularly. Who ever dreamed Penn State would be in the Big 10? Loyalty and commitment aren't what they used to be.

The ingredients are present for a much better Big 12 than we have seen. But there are snarling demons in the bulrushes that must first be exorcised -- and soon.

  • My best wish for Kansas basketeers Raef LaFrentz and Paul Pierce is that they'll have pro rookie seasons as good as Wake Forest's Tim Duncan and Utah's Keith Van Horn. Chances are they won't, however.

LaFrentz for all his potential still doesn't have the little nicety skills that have made Duncan such a vital part of the San Antonio Spurs operation. Further, Duncan has been blessed with seven-foot David Robinson as a running-mate, along with seven-footer Will Perdue. Robinson has taken good care of Duncan. Right now there's no surety LaFrentz will wind up with a club who can provide the guardian angel Robby has been for Duncan.

Van Horn stayed at Utah for his senior season and that extra year of maturity helped him as a pro. Keith not only is physical but cerebral, and adjusts so quickly that coach John Calipari is constantly amazed. Pierce could go to some struggling club such as Dallas and might need a couple years to hit his peak. He has the tools; now he has to develop the psyche to match.

If I had to bet a buck on any newcomers, I'd put it on North Carolina's Antawn Jamison and Arizona's Mike Bibby. Add to all their other skills their tremendous quickness that can mean so much in the NBA. So far, neither LaFrentz nor Pierce has shown such.

-- Bill Mayer's phone number is 832-7185. His e-mail address is mayer@ljworld.com.

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