With Texas A&M clamoring to bolt for the SEC and the rest of the Big 12 Conference working to keep the Aggies, the future of the league once again is ambiguous at best.
How this all affects Kansas University remains to be seen, but those who will have a say in it have one path to take: They must remain loyal to the Big 12.
I know that stance does not sit well with KU fans panicked about the Jayhawks being left out of a major conference. But that won’t happen. Not this time around.
As was the case last year, football remains the driving force in all of this realignment talk. And, clearly, the Jayhawks are not at the front of the pack when it comes to football, in revenue, performance or tradition.
Because of that, it may seem like the best move for Kansas is to leap, blindly, into the Big East, ACC or Big Ten, should the offer present itself. Nonsense.
Now is not the time for Kansas to be calling the Big Ten or the Big East. The best move for Kansas is to remain loyal to the Big 12 and work toward saving and, above all, strengthening the conference it is in.
Remember, a year ago, Missouri’s infatuation with the Big Ten was leaked, and, in a matter of seconds, the rest of the Big 12 was ready to say good riddance.
The Tigers still are in recovery mode from that move, a fact that was made clear this weekend by the way MU athletic director Mike Alden handled the drama this time around. Like KU, Alden has demonstrated undying loyalty to the Big 12, both behind closed doors and in the media. It’s a good move, one that, in no small way, allows Texas AD DeLoss Dodds and others to say with conviction that the Big 12 nine remain committed to the conference.
People want to say that the Big 12 has been weak, but that’s not entirely true. If anything, the conference has shown great poise and moxie by telling those that want to leave, “We’ll be fine without you.” Somehow, that has been overlooked.
There is some work that must be done to ensure that such a statement rings true. But it’s not an impossible task. And it can be achieved as long as the remaining nine Big 12 schools and their leaders operate with a balance of integrity and savvy.
Remember, the SEC is not threatening to steal Texas A&M. In fact, a meeting Sunday of SEC presidents and chancellors wrapped with the league saying, it had “reaffirmed our satisfaction with the present 12 institutional alignment. We recognize, however, that future conditions may make it advantageous to expand the number of institutions in the league.... No action was taken with respect to any institution including Texas A&M.”
Some reports suggest that the statement merely was the SEC “tapping the brakes” and ensuring that the league was covered in a legal sense.
However, doing so hammered home the point that the mess this time around came about because the Aggies threatened to leave.
It has been my experience in life, and it seems to be the current stance of the Big 12, that when someone wants to quit the team, you tell them not to let the door hit them on the way out.
Still, it would be foolish for KU’s leaders not at least to be looking at other options should Armageddon hit and conference realignment flip into full-on madness. That can be done in-house and behind closed doors and, without question, is happening.
Right or wrong, good or bad, expect KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger to stand on his beliefs through this one. He said as much on Jan. 3, when he was introduced as KU’s new AD, and has backed it up with every move he has made, public and private.
Some see that as a weakness, something that could hurt Kansas in all of this.
I see it as a strength.
Zenger believes strongly in doing the right thing for the right reason at the right time. Getting those out of order can create an even bigger mess, and now is not the time for KU to act above its paygrade like a renegade school looking to solve the problem with one punch.
Former KU athletic director Lew Perkins, though heavily connected, was not always easily trusted.
Perkins, like some of the ADs and presidents we’re seeing at work right now, was notorious for working with people on the front porch and against them at the back door.
More times than not, that benefited Kansas.
But with trust, loyalty and solidarity being what the Big 12 needs to survive, Kansas, and the entire conference, is in better shape with Zenger at the helm, particularly because, unlike Perkins last summer, Zenger has thrown his full attention at this matter and will not blink until it’s resolved.
With Zenger’s brand of leadership, which stresses accountability, morality and pride, it’s much easier for schools such as Oklahoma and Texas — the current power brokers upon which the future of the Big 12 hinges — to want to continue in a partnership with the Jayhawks.
Right now, Zenger has a front-row seat to one heck of a boxing match that’s taking place mostly in Texas. He hasn’t stepped foot in the ring and doesn’t plan to be dragged into it.
As long as he keeps his hands up and his head on a swivel, Kansas will be fine, Big 12 or no Big 12.