It’s likely the role played by former Kansas University Chancellor Gene Budig in West Virginia University becoming a member of the Big 12 athletic conference will not be fully known or appreciated for some time.
Budig served as president of WVU prior to coming to Lawrence in 1981 to take over as KU’s leader. He is highly respected in West Virginia and remains well-connected to the state’s senior political leaders. He also has played a significant role in the university’s leadership during the past few years.
Although he is a native of Nebraska, who at one time worked in the University of Nebraska chancellor’s office, Budig has remained extremely loyal to KU. He takes great interest in various facets of KU, as well as being the most fiscally generous to KU of all its past chancellors. He was upset with NU’s departure to the Big 10 conference and wants to make sure the Big 12 remains a leading conference and that KU’s interests are well-served.
Budig knows the many strengths of West Virginia, which will help make the Big 12 an exceptionally strong conference. At a time when the public is becoming increasingly aware of the world hunger situation, the Big 12’s land-grant schools — West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma State — will place this conference in a critically important position to try to find answers to address this growing disaster.
Budig has firsthand knowledge of the excellence of WVU President Jim Clements and the school’s athletic director, Oliver Luck, a Rhodes scholar, former quarterback for the Mountaineers football team and father of Stanford’s outstanding quarterback, Andrew Luck. Also, Budig is well aware of the powerful and large television audience West Virginia’s athletic teams enjoy on the East Coast.
Having served as chancellor of KU and president of WVU, Budig is strong in his belief that the addition of West Virginia is good for both schools and the Big 12.
Although there was considerable discussion about what might happen to the Big 12 conference under various conference realignments, it is known that KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger, along with K-State President Kirk Schulz and Athletic Director John Currie, were strong supporters of West Virginia joining the conference.
Budig’s name may not have appeared in headlines and stories about the conference realignment situation, but he played a very significant role. When the football teams of KU and West Virginia meet, either in KU’s Memorial Stadium or at WVU’s 60,000-plus-seat Mountaineers Stadium, and, if Budig is in attendance, it will be interesting to see where he decides to sit or whether he might elect to switch sides at half-time.
Regardless, he has been and remains a strong, effective and loyal supporter of both institutions, and his recent involvement played a pivotal role in keeping the Big 12 conference strong in both academics and athletics.